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The Olympic profile puts Aboriginal issues on the international stage: let's resolve them in that light

By Geoff Clark - posted Friday, 15 September 2000

I imagine with the Olympics upon us there will be very few slow news days before October.

Interest in, and support for the games, is strong within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The ATSIC board is mindful of this. As a result we have a clear and publicly articulated policy on the games.


The board has publicly wished all of the Australian athletes the very best in their quest for honours. Our fervent hope, not surprisingly, is for black gold.

The ATSIC board is also unanimous in its view that, in this instance, sports and politics do mix.

The games provide an invaluable opportunity for our people to lay the facts before the assembled international and domestic media about the appalling economic and social conditions in which many of them live.

When I come to Sydney I do so in the knowledge that it was the place of our first dispossessions, the first punitive raids, and the first child removals. By 1789 half of Sydney’s Indigenous population had succumbed to disease.

But here too was the first resistance … the first demonstration of our will to survive. We live with that legacy today. It inspires our continuing fight for recognition. That is why the board of ATSIC has called on our people to seize the Olympic moment.

Proper recognition is yet to be given to the legitimate aspirations of our people and their unique place in Australian history and society.


Fundamental reforms are necessary to secure and underpin those rights and to ensure they can be exercised and enjoyed by Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders. We will highlight these matters during the games.

That is why the board recently re-affirmed its support for the right of people to protest during the games should they wish to do so. It has called on organisers and those planning to participate to take great care to ensure the protests are peaceful and orderly. The rights of others to engage in the Olympic spirit, as they might wish, should be fully respected.

We are conscious of the need to keep the media spotlight on the issues and to ensure that spotlight is kept on the federal government. As you are aware, another UN human rights treaty body has just announced its concern over the Howard government’s treatment of our people.

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This article was originally presented as a speech to the Foreign Correspondents Association in Sydney on September 7, 2000.

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About the Author

Geoff Clark is a former Chair of ATSIC.

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