Aborigines seek Olympics boycott

Jake Lynch
Tuesday 08 December 1998 00:02 GMT
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A SENIOR Aboriginal adviser to the Sydney Olympics has called for an international boycott of the event in protest at what he calls the worsening racist treatment of his people.

Charles Perkins, the only indigenous member of the committee responsible for winning the 2000 Games for Sydney, issued the appeal as activists stepped up efforts to take their protests on to a world stage. Their fear is that a generation of progress for Aborigines appears to be going into reverse.

The final straw for Mr Perkins came last week as the chair of Sydney's Olympic bid, Rod McGeoch, resigned from the board of the Olympic organising committee. Members of the Aboriginal advisory body lobbied publicly for their chairperson, Lowitja O'Donoghue, to become the only black member of the committee. Instead, the vacancy went to Marjorie Jackson, a former sprinter. She comes from the ruling Labour Party's most marginal seat in the forthcoming New South Wales state elections.

Mr Perkins said that health facilities for Aborigines were "atrocious", and housing conditions "terrible". His people, he added, were dying on average 20 years earlier than white Australians. "Unless those things change before the Olympics, then I would suggest to the European people, especially the British people, don't bother coming over," he said. "They would be dancing on our graves."

Mr Perkins complained that the Olympic authorities had appropriated Aboriginal symbols, using the boomerang for the Games' logo and launching the torch relay from the Aborigines' most sacred site, Uluru. "They've stolen something and they're abusing it on the international scene," he said.

He recalled a news conference he had given during the International Olympic Committee meeting five years ago in Monte Carlo, when Sydney won the Games. His belief that the Olympics would help bring Australia's races together had been instrumental, he believed, in securing Sydney's victory.

Since then, he said, Aboriginal people had been frozen out "The route for the torch - we would like to have had an input into that, but when we did make recommendations they were ignored," he said. "We wanted them [the events] to go to big Aboriginal communities, where there were full facilities in terms of airstrips, but they didn't want that to happen."

A spokesman for the organising committee, Milton Cockburn, said he was confident there would not be a boycott because "all the Aboriginal athletes in Australia have urged that there won't be a boycott.

"They have pointed out that for some of them this will be their only opportunity to participate in an Olympic Games."

But in targeting the overseas markets, Aborigine leaders may be striking at Australia's most vulnerable point. With apopulation of 18 million, Australia has the smallest population of any country to stage the games in modern times. With the biggest-ever Olympic stadium, able to seat 110,000, now nearing completion, organisers need to sell seven million tickets to remain in budget. It is estimated that about three million of those will need to be sold to overseas visitors.

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