MORE than 40 years have passed, but the Australian Parliament could today take the first step in resolving one of sport’s most enduring injustices.
The image of a black power protest by US athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games has long held a sad significance for Australian sport, and for Learmonth man Laurie Norman.
Mr Norman’s brother, Peter Norman, won a silver medal in the men’s 200 metres but returned to Australia blacklisted for supporting the controversial civil rights protest.
His brother died in 2006, but, along with his 91-year-old mother, Mr Norman will be in the public gallery of the House of Representatives today to hear debate about a posthumous apology called for by Independent MP Rob Oakeshott.
“Peter never regretted what he did,” Mr Norman said.
“He stood up for what he knew was right and while he suffered the consequences when he came home, he knew he had done the right thing.”
The Australian sprinter wore an Olympic Project for Human Rights badge during the medal presentation, alongside Smith and Carlos as they gave the black power salute in barefoot and black gloves.
Overlooked for selection for the Munich Olympic Games and later Commonwealth selection, despite repeatedly qualifying, Peter was all but shut out of professional sport.
Mr Norman said his family and Australian officials did not know Peter would take part in the protest until the ceremony.
“He was very conscious of equality within the community here and overseas and when they told him what they were going to do Peter said he would stand with them,” Mr Norman said.
Despite the passage of time, Peter was not invited by Australian officials to play any role in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, but was later invited by the United States team to be present.
Each year, the date of his October 9, 2006 funeral is celebrated as Peter Norman Day by the United States Track and Field Federation.
A bill introduced by Mr Oakeshott and fellow MP Andrew Leigh will seek to recognise Peter’s national record of 20.06 seconds – still the fastest time by an Australian, as well as his solidarity with the African-American athletes.
The bill “apologises to Peter Norman for the wrong done by Australia in failing to send him to the 1972 Munich Olympics and belatedly recognises the powerful role that Peter Norman played in furthering racial equality”.
Mr Norman said the debate and expected apology would hold special significance for the family.
“It is very important to me and my family, and is something so important for my mum to be there in the gallery to see an apology after all these years,” he said.