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Salute: Smith Has no Regrets in Using the Olympics World Platform for Human Rights

Posted: 13/07/2012 00:00

Salute, the Australian made film documenting the events of the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico, is set to be released in UK cinemas on 13 July.

The movie insightfully documents the friendship of Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Peter Norman who stunned the world with their protest on the podium as they received their medals for the 200m sprint. Smith and Carlos stood, head bowed, each with a fist to the sky to giving the Black Power Salute. The image taken during their silent protest on the podium, is arguably one the most iconic images of the 20th century.

Salute focuses particularly on the role of Australian athlete Norman in the simple yet monumental act. Not only did he unexpectedly help Smith and Carlos, he also stood in solidarity with the cause wearing a Olympic Project for Human Rights badge. His involvement symbolizes much-needed unity between Black and White communities during the times of the Civil Rights movement. Smith refers to the protest as not a Salute for Black Power but a Salute for Human Rights.

All three men faced vilification by the public and media back home in the USA and Australia. The athletes and their families recieved constant harassment from the press. Decades later, the hostility did not disappear. The Olympic Committee did not invite Norman to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. Ultimately the three's athletic careers were sacrificed.

I met with Dr. Tommie Smith who is currently in the UK for the film's release. I was curious to know if he felt any regrets or doubts after facing the aftermath of his actions. Confidently, he replied: "No, no regrets, no doubts, only pro-active forwardism"

1968 saw the assignation of US. President John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King and the athletes involved in the civil rights movement were themselves too sent death threats. I asked Smith what was going through his mind whilst on the podium knowing his life could potentially be in danger. "Having to do what I did and getting off the stand." He highlighted the sadness of: "having to use the Olympic victory stand to create the awareness that should have already been created on a unilateral basis."

Smith's activism began before 1968 whilst he was part of the student movement at San Jose University. Emphasising the need for students activism Smith told me: "Young black men needed to get involved with political attitudes of the system I lived in. It was a racist system so we in the prime eye of our system that there was a need for more work in human and civil rights issues".

Podium and the NUS Black Students' Campaign organised an early screening of Salute this Tuesday at the University of Westminister's Cinema. Smith attended the event and answered questions from attendees. One asked if Smith thought something could happen at this year's Olympic Games. "Anything could happen, as I said back in 1968, man is capable of anything... do what you think is necessary that has not been done to make the issue clearer." Smith told students "What did you do today to create a better atmosphere than you did yesterday?"

Over 40 years on is it still necessary for political issues to be highlighted through the Olympic Games? Some argue politics and human rights have no place with sport. However, the Olympics bring together all countries and until there is true unity and equality amongst all, the Olympics is a world platform to highlight issues. An example today being Saudi Arabia's backtracking on pledge to allow females to represent and compete.

Regardless of whether or not the Olympics is the place for politics, Salute is reminder to us all to stand in solidarity with those who face struggles in equality. It reminds us that humanity means another persons' struggle is ours too and sometimes sacrifices must be made to help. Lastly it reminds us that the simplest acts can make a poweful impact on the world. Smith say we must "Have faith."

 

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