'No reason' why Peter Norman's nephew not involved in statue project

In this Oct. 16, 1968, file photo, U.S. athletes Tommie Smith, center, and John Carlos stare downward and extend gloved hands skyward in a Black power salute after Smith received the gold and Carlos the bronze for the 200 meter run at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City. Australian silver medalist Peter Norman is at left. Tommie Smith and John Carlos are part of the 2019 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame class. (AP Photo)

In this Oct. 16, 1968, file photo, U.S. athletes Tommie Smith, center, and John Carlos stare downward and extend gloved hands skyward in a Black power salute after Smith received the gold and Carlos the bronze for the 200 meter run at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City. Australian silver medalist Peter Norman is at left. Tommie Smith and John Carlos are part of the 2019 U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame class. (AP Photo)

Australian Olympic sprinter Peter Norman, who famously supported American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the podium at the 1968 Mexico City games, had a statue unveiled at Melbourne's Albert Park in front of family and supporters on Wednesday.

However, Mr Norman's nephew, who first called for a statue in 2008, said he had been "left out" of planning, and only received an invitation to the event earlier this week.

Matt Norman, who lives in Ballarat, researched, produced, and directed Salute, a 2008 film based on Peter's story, and has co-written two books about his uncle.

Peter, who finished second in the 1968 200-metre sprint, gave his black gloves to Mr Smith and Mr Carlos before the medal ceremony.

The statue of Peter Norman in Melbourne, unveiled on Wednesday. Picture: Athletics Australia

The statue of Peter Norman in Melbourne, unveiled on Wednesday. Picture: Athletics Australia

When on the podium, Mr Smith and Mr Carlos raised their fists in a silent protest against the treatment of African-Americans in the United States.

Peter stood with them, wearing the Olympic Project for Human Rights badge - it's an iconic image around the world.

Despite holding the Australian 200m record - which still stands today - and qualifying for the 1972 Munich Olympics "about 15 times", according to Matt, he was passed over for the Australian team.

He said Peter was shunned by athletics authorities for decades because of his political stance against racism.

Sports academic Professor Steve Georgakis notes in a 2012 article in The Conversation Peter was "not welcomed" to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, although the Australian Olympic Committee denied he was ever blacklisted.

Footage of Tommie Smith and John Carlos receiving their medals in 1968

Eventually, as more people understood the full story, Peter was recognised as an Australian hero, Matt said - this included parliamentary apologies, a posthumous Order of Merit from the Australian Olympic Committee, and Athletics Australia's adoption of 'Peter Norman Day' every October 9, as well as numerous charity initiatives and scholarships in his name.

An Athletics Australia representative said repeatedly there was "no particular reason" why Matt was left out of planning for the statue, and reiterated that he was included on the guest list.

"His sister was involved, but not Matt, no particular reason at all," they said.

"He did not ask to be involved."

Matt was also "fully briefed" but "did not reply", they said.

Matt Norman with his book A Race to Remember, in 2008. Picture: Lachlan Bence

Matt Norman with his book A Race to Remember, in 2008. Picture: Lachlan Bence

The statue was planned with the state government's assistance - a state government press release notes "(t)he act caused a wave of global controversy, with Mr Norman criticised and unofficially sanctioned by officials on his return to Australia".

Matt said the unveiling was "a long time coming", but he would have done things differently.

"I was a little frustrated that the statue didn't have anywhere for anyone else to stand, or having the three of them, I think that would have been a more powerful statue," he said.

"I've spent the last 10, 12 years doing nothing but educate Australians about Peter - they (Athletics Australia) won't tell me (why), but I've always challenged their story on Peter.

"I would have loved to be there, I wouldn't have made any type of scene - it's a good thing for my uncle."

Several other Norman family members were present at the unveiling, including his daughter Janita.

Press releases announcing the statue last year include comments from Athletics Australia's president Mark Arbib acknowledging "that more should have been done in the past to honour Norman".

The trailer for Salute (2008)

"Initiatives to honour Peter Norman, such as this statue, are seriously overdue," he said in the statement.

For Matt, while he said he is "just hurt" to not be involved, it's still an opportunity to inform people about his uncle.

"The biggest moral to the story, I've told everyone, a white guy standing up for black rights in the 1960s was a very dangerous thing," he said.

"Martin Luther King Junior and Bobby Kennedy had been assassinated (that year).

"So for Peter to do something wearing the badge and stand up for black athletes was a really dangerous thing to do.

"People back in the day would understand how dangerous it was."

This story Controversy dogs even the latest salute to hero athlete Peter Norman first appeared on The Courier.