SYDNEY (AFP) – A campaign was launched yesterday for a monument to recognise an unsung Australian athlete who supported two Americans in their famous Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics.
Peter Norman, silver medallist in the 200m at Mexico City, stood on the podium alongside US sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who both put a black-gloved fist in the air in a civil rights protest.
He backed their gesture and wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge in support, but was then frozen out of future Games selection and airbrushed from Australian Olympic history until recently.
“His contribution to racial equality has never really been recognised in this country,” Peter Norman Commemoration Committee convenor Joseph Toscano said.
“I think Australian society has changed. I think we are seeing the rise of political movements and organisations promoting racial inequality and hatred.
“We felt that it’s important to recognise not just Peter Norman and his family, but also the stand he took because every man, every woman who stands up makes a difference.”
The push follows American protests over Confederate statues that hark back to the nation’s slave-owning past, although Toscano said the campaign was not sparked by the US debate over monuments.
Norman’s family are patrons of the committee, and his daughter Janita said he would support moves to recognise the stand he took.
“It would have never been something he asked for himself,” Janita Norman said.
“He was never one for self-recognition, but our family all agreed this is something he would’ve wanted. He was proud of the stand he took. Even 50 years on the message has such an importance and is still relevant now.”
Norman, who died in 2006 aged 64, hailed from Melbourne and his supporters hope a “significant interactive monument” can be erected in the city.
Toscano said they would like to set up an international competition to choose a design.
Norman is more widely recognised in the US than Australia, with the USA Track and Field Federation declaring the day of his funeral – October 9 – as Peter Norman Day.
In 2012, Canberra passed a motion of apology to Norman “for the treatment he received upon his return to Australia, and the failure to fully recognise his inspirational role before his untimely death in 2006”.
Australian Olympic officials deny Norman was ever blacklisted or shunned, and was only cautioned at the time to be careful about his public statements.