Damien Hooper (L) of Australia is dressed in a T-shirt bearing the Aboriginal colours as he arrives for his first round Light-heavyweight (81kg) match of the London 2012 Olymipic Games against Marcus Browne of the USA at the Excel Arena in London. Hooper, who went on to win a 13-11 points decision, could face some form of sanction for wearing the Aboriginal colours. (AFP PHOTO / Jack GUEZ)
NATIONAL: He did it for his people, but officials are warning Aboriginal boxer Damien Hooper not to repeat his entry to the Olympic ring with the Aboriginal flag proudly emblazoned across his chest.
Hooper, who hails from North Queensland, marked his Games debut by wearing a black T-shirt bearing the Aboriginal flag as he arrived for his impressive opening fight win against American Marcus Browne.
It went against Australian team rules, which state athletes must only wear the official team uniform.
But it’s the fear of further sanctions from the International Olympic Committee, which frowns upon political statements, that prompted Australian Olympic team officials to halt the practice ahead of his second round fight against Russian Egor Mekhontcev.
“We will talk to Damien and counsel him against doing it again,” Australian team media director Mike Tancred said.
“He intends to apologise to (Australian team chef de mission) Nick Green for his actions but there is the potential for the IOC to look at this incident as a possible breach of the Olympic Charter and they could take action.”
IOC spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau said the IOC had been informed of the incident by the Australians.
“The AOC is handling the matter and is in touch with the athlete,” she said. “At the moment it is in their hands. We’ll leave it with them for the moment.”
After beating Browne with a brutal third round onslaught, Hooper seemed unperturbed by the potential trouble his sartorial gesture could bring.
“What do you reckon? I’m Aboriginal, I’m representing my culture, not only my country but all my people as well,” said Hooper of his motive for wearing the T-shirt.
“That’s what I wanted to do and I’m happy I did it.
“I was just thinking about my family and that’s what really matters to me.
“Look what it just did – it just made my whole performance a lot better with that whole support behind me.
“I’m not saying that at all that I don’t care (about a possible sanction), I’m just saying that I’m very proud of what I did.”
His action had echoes of the Cathy Freeman-Arthur Tunstall controversy 18 years earlier.
Freeman marked her coming of age as an athlete in 1994 by celebrating her 200m Commonwealth Games gold with a victory lap in which she carried both the Australian and Aboriginal flags.
Despite strong criticism from Australian team chef de mission Tunstall, Freeman repeated the act after winning the 400m – and again following her memorable gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
The IOC charter prevents political statements at the Games, but Hooper – considered Australia’s best chance of a boxing medal since Graham `Spike’ Cheney won silver in 1988 – has never been one for officialdom.
He was sent home early from the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games for misbehaviour, while his Olympic build-up was hampered when he was sent packing from a team camp following a run-in with coach Don Abnett.
What was clear after Monday’s performance against Browne is that Hooper has the tools to possibly end Australian boxing’s gold medal drought.
He was surprisingly conservative early – and trailed 6-5 after two rounds – before exploding with a flurry of punches in the last, including one to the chin of Browne which resulted in a standing eight count.
“I could see it in his eyes and his body language that he didn’t want to be there,” Hooper said.