NEWS
21/08/2012 05:48 BST | Updated 21/08/2012 09:03 BST

Australian Olympic Athlete Peter Norman, 'Snubbed' For Black Power Support, May Finally Get Apology

It is one of the most iconic Olympic images, two black American athletes, standing next to a white Australian, and raising their fists in a black power salute.

The third man was silver medallist Peter Norman, standing tall beside them and silently supporting their gesture, wearing a badge for the Olympic Project for Human Rights.

Norman helped the two men plan their gesture, suggesting they use black gloves. He said afterwards: "I believe every man is born equal."

Peter Norman was reportedly shunned in Australia for his support of his fellow athletes' gesture of protest

And although 200 metre medallists Tommie Smith and John Carlos were eventually venerated in the US for their gesture at the 1968 Mexico City Games, Norman was reportedly shunned by the Australian Olympic establishment until he died.

Smith and Carlos were pallbearers and delivered eulogies at his funeral in 2006, after he died of a heart attack having suffered from depression and alcoholism.

Now, the Australian Federal Parliament is currently debating an apology motion for the former Olympian.

The Australian Olympic Committee has denied blacklisting Norman for his role in the famous Olympic Black Power salute at the 1968 Mexico Games.

But it is claimed he was blacklisted from the 1972 Games and was not invited to perform a lap of honour at the Sydney Games in 2000.

But the AOC says Norman was only cautioned by head Julius Patching and says his non-selection for the 1972 Munich Olympics was due to injury.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos acted as pallbearers for Peter Norman at his funeral in in 2006

Peter Norman took gold and bronze at the 1968 Olympics

Members of the US team in 2000 declared themselves appalled by his snub, and he was invited to stay at the US athletes' base with athletes Ed Moses and Michaal Johnson.

Carlos told Australia's ABC News: "Peter Norman let me know that regardless of what your ethnic background is it has nothing to do with your principles".

"He was a white individual and he came from a country ... parallel to South Africa in terms of attitude towards people other than white folks.

"But Peter Norman showed the quality of himself as a white man, to state that, 'Hey man, I'm for equality and justice and freedom for all individuals to be successful in life'.

"And I think that's the main thing that I love about Peter Norman, that he understood this, he was real with this and he never walked away from it."

"I think the pressures that the nation put on him and the disrespect that they showed him, I think it wounded him.

"I think he was hurting and I don't think he ever recovered from the hurt that they put upon him. Unnecessarily hurt."

But he added that he believed the apology was "too late", coming after Norman's death.

Norman's 91-year-old mother, Thelma, and sister Elaine Ambler went to the Australian parliament on Monday to hear tributes to him from politicians.

"It surprises me how many people know his name, and those that don't do remember the photo," his sister said.

Labor federal member Andrew Leigh, who proposed the motion to apologise to Norman, said after his speech to lawmakers, "sometimes you get to do something in parliament that puts a lump in your throat.

"Seeing the smile on the face of 91 year-old Thelma Norman after parliament debated my motion about her late son was one of those moments."

In parliament, he said: "Life magazine and Le Monde have declared it one of the most influential images of the 20th century.

"An image of three brave athletes at the 1968 Mexico City Games making a statement on racial equality. One of them was Australia’s Peter Norman.

"Racist slurs were hurled at Smith and Carlos. IOC President Avery Brundage – a man who’d had no difficulty with the Nazi salute being used in the 1936 Olympics – insisted the two be expelled. In that moment Norman advanced international awareness for racial equality.

"What is clear is that in 1972, Norman consistently ran qualifying times for the 100 and 200 metres, but was not sent. It is also clear that he never complained about his treatment.

"The apparent treatment of Peter Norman is symbolic of the attitude of the late-1960s and early-1970s. The view that sport and politics should not mix.

"In the simple act of wearing that badge, Peter Norman showed the world he stood for racial equality. He showed us that the action of one person can make a difference."