Wednesday, August 8, 2012

1968 Olympics Black Power salute

"The goal of Olympism is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world
by educating youth through sport practised without discrimination of any
kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with
a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.

Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on 
grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible 
with belonging to the Olympic Movement. "

Olympic Charter,
Fundamental Principles

In a world where discrimination of all sorts remains to be a reality, the Olympics can't escape it.  The spirit of friendship and solidarity can be realized only by acknowledging and addressing the realities existing.  The historic Black Power Salute or Human Rights Salute in the 1968 Olympics testified this. 

On the morning of 16 October 1968, U.S. athlete Tommie Smith won the 200 meter race in a world-record time of 19.83 seconds, with Australia's Peter Norman second with a time of 20.06 seconds, and the U.S.'s John Carlos in third place with a time of 20.10 seconds. After the race was completed, the three went to collect their medals at the podium. The two U.S. athletes received their medals shoeless, but wearing black socks, to represent black poverty. Smith wore a black scarf around his neck to represent black pride, Carlos had his tracksuit top unzipped to show solidarity with all blue collar workers in the U.S. and wore a necklace of beads which he described "were for those individuals that were lynched, or killed and that no-one said a prayer for, that were hung and tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the middle passage.  All three athletes wore Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) badges after Norman, a critic of Australia's White Australia Policy, expressed empathy with their ideals. Sociologist Harry Edwards, the founder of the OPHR, had urged black athletes to boycott the games; reportedly, the actions of Smith and Carlos on 16 October 1968 were inspired by Edwards' arguments.
Both U.S. athletes intended on bringing black gloves to the event, but Carlos forgot his, leaving them in the Olympic Village. It was the Australian, Peter Norman, who suggested Carlos wear Smith's left-handed glove, this being the reason behind him raising his left hand, as opposed to his right, differing from the traditional Black Power salute. When "The Star-Spangled Banner" played, Smith and Carlos delivered the salute with heads bowed, a gesture which became front page news around the world. As they left the podium they were booed by the crowd

'Black America will understand'

At a press conference after the event Tommie Smith, who held seven world records at that time, said: "If I win I am an American, not a black American. But if I did something bad then they would say 'a Negro'. We are black and we are proud of being black.
"Black America will understand what we did tonight."

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president, Avery Brundage, deemed it to be a domestic political statement, unfit for the apolitical, international forum the Olympic Games were supposed to be. In an immediate response to their actions, he ordered Smith and Carlos suspended from the U.S. team and banned from the Olympic Village. When the US Olympic Committee refused, Brundage threatened to ban the entire US track team. This threat led to the two athletes being expelled from the Games.
A spokesman for the IOC said it was "a deliberate and violent breach of the fundamental principles of the Olympic spirit. Brundage, who was president of the United States Olympic Committee in 1936, had made no objections against Nazi Salutes during the Berlin Olympics. He argued that the Nazi salute, being a national salute at the time, was acceptable in a competition of nations, while the athletes' salute was not of a nation and therefore unacceptable. Brundage had been one of the United States' most prominent Nazi sympathisers even after the outbreak of the Second World War, and his removal as president of the IOC had been one of the three stated objectives of the Olympic Project for Human Rights.

The three athletes and the OPHR proved that the rhetoric of equality and brotherhood will remain mere words unless they are practiced.  

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