Call it the T-shirt seen round the world. Australian boxer Damien Hooper entered the Olympic boxing arena in London on Monday wearing a shirt bearing the colors of the Aboriginal flag. And the International Olympic Committee (IOC) may punish him for it.
Hooper, 20, the first indigenous Australian boxer to triumph at a junior world title level when he won Youth Olympics Gold in 2010, was meant to be wearing a red singlet, but instead he proudly displayed the flag of his people. “I’m an Aborigine representing my culture and my people here at the Olympic Games,” Hooper told World News Australia.
Although he has no regrets, he isn’t ambivalent about the IOC’s threatened action. “I didn’t say I didn’t care,” said the fighter. The IOC has yet to rule.
Under IOC rules no flags can be brought into stadia of nations not competing at the Games. The Aboriginal flag’s colors are red, yellow and black, which represent the Earth, the sun and Aborigines respectively.
The Games have previously been host to bold acts of civil disobedience, most famously in 1968 in Mexico City when U.S. runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos bowed their heads and raised their back-gloved fists while on the medal stand. The Black Power salute was an epic moment in the Civil Rights era.
Hooper’s fellow Aborigine and Australian athletics legend Cathy Freeman celebrated her 1994 Commonwealth Games victory in the 200 metres by performing her lap of honor carrying both the Australian and Aboriginal flags, World News Australia reports. Undeterred by heavy criticism from Commonwealth officials, and her own team president Arthur Tunstall, she repeated the gesture a few days later after winning the 400m in Victoria, Canada.
The flag, though, was flown at several Olympic venues at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney after heavy lobbying by the National Indigenous Advisory Committee. Spectators were also allowed to bring them into stadia for events under special dispensation by the IOC, which waived its rule for the Aboriginal flag.
But it’s back to business as usual this year for the IOC. Despite the controversy, Hooper did pull off a major victory in the ring, beating Team USA’s Marcus Browne.
Indian Country is pulling for an even bigger victory, the right to bear tribute to indigenous heritage and nations, and Hooper is quietly fighting the powers that be.