In 1996, Nova Peris became the first Indigenous Australian to win an Olympic gold medal as a member of the Hockeyroos. Now, she’s calling for the ban on athletes protesting at the Olympic Games to be overturned.
Earlier this year, the International Olympic Committee published guidelines banning any protests at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. Taking a knee, raising a fist or refusing to follow protocol at medal ceremonies are some of the actions that have been prohibited.
Peris’ call to overturn the contentious Rule 50 joins a growing movement that wants to see athletes able to use their platform at the Olympics to speak out against racism.
In recent days, former US track athlete and renowned Olympic protestor John Carlos put his name on a letter to the IOC, along with other US athletes, calling for the rule to be rolled back.
In 1968, Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists on the medal podium at the Mexico City Olympics, to protest racial inequality.
“Carlos and Smith risked everything to stand for human rights and what they believed in, and they continue to inspire generation after generation to do the same,” the letter said.
“It is time for the Olympic and Paralympic movement to honor their bravery rather than denounce their actions.”
Nova Peris told the Sydney Morning Herald, “athletes shouldn’t be silenced.”
“We’re not just jumping on the American bandwagon. We as Aboriginal people still suffer systemic racism in this country,” she said. “That’s why people took to the streets [for the Black Lives Matter protests].
Peris is one of Australia’s most celebrated athletes, and one of few athletes internationally to compete across different sports. As well as winning gold as part of the Hockeyroos, she has had an esteemed career in athletics, winning the 200m and 4x100m gold medals at the 1998 Commonwealth Games.
At the 2000 Sydney Olympics she reached the semi-finals of the 400m and was a member of Australia’s 4 x 400m relay team.
In 2013, she became the first Indigenous woman elected to federal parliament, as a Senator for the Northern Territory.
“As the first torchbearer [before the Sydney Olympics] I ran bare-footed because I wanted to tell the world about Aboriginal Australia but I also wanted to tell the world that there’s a history of injustices here. That’s why I ran with no shoes on.”
Peris has also called for the addition of a “black voice” to the Australian Olympic Committee’s athletes commission. The elected body that advises the AOC on Olympic issues from an athlete’s perspective and is chaired by Steve Hooker, does not have an Indigenous member.
“I can tell you now that a few of us were contacted [about Rule 50] … Steve Hooker, who’s on that commission, reached out and said ‘how can we support you? What can we say?” Peris told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“Well, if you had a black voice on there you wouldn’t have to be reaching out and saying ‘how do we stand for humanity?’.
“If you’re going to be serious about human equality you need to have a representation of people to have a lived experience of what it means to be looked at through the eyes of inequality.”
This is an artists impression of what my statue will look like if I can raise the 30k! The go fund me link is here 👇🏾https://t.co/NIKMe0OIGi— Nova Peris OAM OLY (@NovaPeris) June 19, 2020
Even if you can only afford $5 or $10 I’d love your support! ❤️@JandamarraCadd is coming on board and partnering with the artists too! pic.twitter.com/l3nopzJdIf