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John Passant

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Damien Hooper is a champion

Damien Hooper is an Australian boxer. He is Aboriginal and proud of it. In the lead up to his first fight at the Olympics he wore a T-shirt with the Aboriginal flag on it to show his pride in his people and to help motivate himself.

Photo: Jason South

For those not familiar with the history of the flag, according to Harold Thomas, its designer:

  • Black: Represents the Aboriginal people of Australia
  • Red: Represents the red earth, the red ochre and a spiritual relation to the land
  • Yellow: Represents the Sun, the giver of life and protector

Hooper is rightly proud of his Aboriginality and wanted to show the world his heritage. Here’s what he said at the time:

I’m Aboriginal, I’m representing my culture, not only my country but all my people as well. That’s what I wanted to do and I’m happy I did it.

Perfectly sensible and rational and defensible I would have thought. But not to the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) and it seems much of what passes for opinion makers in Australian society. (Interestingly one of those quickie newspaper polls in that most reactionary of newspapers, the Herald-Sun, shows that just under half of those voting support Hooper in wearing the Aboriginal flag T-shirt.)

The AOC has counseled him over his breach of team rules and warned him not to do it again.His crime? He wasn’t wearing the team uniform.  This is verboten, evidently.

According to Nick Green, the chef de mission, Hooper has apologised and promised he won’t do it again.

Now there’s a surprise. A white man in charge telling the rest of us what the black man thinks.

The fear was that the International Olympic Committee would do more than just wrap him over the knuckles. He may have breached sub-rule 51.3 of the Olympic Charter  which says:

 No kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas. 

The penalties could have included disqualification or loss of accreditation. I’d be backing down too if that was the threat against me.  That to me explains his apology. Since then the IOC has said that they won’t take any further action because the AOC had dealt with it.

No threat should have been raised or made or suggested or whatever the weasel words of Olympic Games double speak that best describe what happened to Hooper. 

Wearing the Aboriginal flag is not propaganda.  It recognises a proud history of  a people who since 1788 to today have been subjected to the genocide of capitalism, by capitalism and for capitalism.

As Anthony Mundine said in defending Hooper:

How can we be proud as Aboriginal Australians and see the sight of the Union Jack and what that flag has done in the past, the genocide, the rape and the murder and the stolen children? I can’t stand for that.

The real propaganda we are dealing with here is in many of the national flags and uniforms of the imperialist countries, countries like the US, the UK and Australia. Their flags represent the dominant ethos of the dominant class and their rotten histories of dispossession, war, racism and repression. That is the real propaganda.

By chastising Hooper for a breach of the rules the effect is to censor once again the reality of Aboriginal dispossession and genocide that Australian capitalism has undertaken in pursuit of profit.

While wearing an Aboriginal flag is a major breach, wearing the advertising of the manufacturers of the sporting equipment like shoes, shorts and shirts, is perfectly OK, despite the fact that it is well documented that many of those products are made by what is effectively slave labour.

Nike or Aboriginal pride? What a choice. And not surprisingly while I stand with Damien Hooper, the Olympic bosses stand with Nike.

The Olympics Games is political, a celebration not of sport and the achievements of the human body and mind but of a degraded commercialised set of activities for profit for companies and some minor spin offs for the ‘best’ athletes.

But it is more than that. It is capitalism disguised as sport that is being worshipped, and what Hooper has done is unwittingly challenge the sanctimonious sneering ruling elite’s imperialist and racist world view where profit is god. 

It has happened before. In 1968 Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave the black power salute on the podium after winning medals. All hell broke loose that two black men would highlight and challenge their oppression and the system which produces it in such a public way.

Frozen in time: Tommie Smith (centre) and John Carlos make their famous stance at the Mexico Olympics


Cathy Freeman draped herself in the Aboriginal flag and the Australian flag after her gold medal winning performance in Sydney in 2000. Again all hell broke loose. How dare she remind us of the people on whose bones and land Australian capitalism is built.



So Damien Hooper is not alone in celebrating his heritage and being rebuked for doing so by the dominant powers that oppress the oppressed in the first place, creating the very conditions for such proud, powerful and symbolic displays.

In the Communist Manifesto Marx and Engels almost wrote a panegyric to capitalism and its achievements, when they said that the bourgeoisie:

…has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put in the shade all former Exoduses of nations and crusades.

That is what we are witnessing on the sports field of Olympia, the triumphs of men and women through and by and with capitalism. That is why for example the two major imperialist countries – the US and China – will dominate the medal count, followed by other imperialist nations and their wannabes like Australia.

But there is another side to capitalism. As Marx put it in volume one of Capital its history ‘…is written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire.’ The display of the Aboriginal flag recognises this blood and fire that capitalism has imposed on the original inhabitants of Australia and the manic reaction that is an attempt to deny the truth of history.

There is also something else. Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto warned that crisis is inherent in the system. The result, they said, was that:

Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation, had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed; and why? Because there is too much civilisation, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce.

Marx and Engels could have added too much elite sport. The Olympics is the momentary but regular barbarism that is the zenith of capitalist sport.

Elite sport is a product of capitalism and its ethics of competition and profit. Such sport is both something for the profit of a small minority and something the rest of us can only watch.

It is not only a product of the system of the 1% but part of their mechanisms of ideological rule. ‘See what we as human in general are capable of. Not you of course but a lucky few, the beneficiaries of our system and our largesse. Just like these athletes, if you work harder, the rewards could be yours.‘ Of course the rewards mainly go to capital, not to those who actually do the work.

The lengthening of the working day – itself a response by capital to the tendency of the rate of profit to fall – means we workers have less time and less energy to engage in sport as exercise.

We are consumers, not participants in two senses – we consume their ideas and products. We watch Masterchef while eating McDonald’s; we watch the Olympics while being force-fed McDonald’s images.

The neoliberal revolution means that individual exercise packages are sold to us along with motivational experts to profit from us in our growing sedentarism. We eat fast food because it is fast and ‘saves’ time. We pay for gym membership – individual activity divorced from any concept let alone reality of team or sharing and socialising with others – because it ‘saves’ time and reflects the dominant neoliberal ethos of the age.

Like sport under capitalism, you can also watch politics, you can be spectators to the great game of politics and the manoeuvres of our politicians, but you cannot participate regularly.

The time has come for the reclamation of sport through the reclamation of our humanity.

The first step towards that would be and must be recognition of prior ownership and sovereignty of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of this land we call Australia and negotiation of a fair and just treaty with them.

That is not going to occur under capitalism. Only a democratic working class revolution can begin and complete that task.

Damien Hooper, whether he realises it or not, has given us a glimpse of an alternative future where our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters can be proud of their history and their resistance and join with the exploited working class in a new society of freedom and equity where their history and culture is celebrated and respected, not repressed and hidden away.

Like all posts on this site, comments close after 7 days. To have your say or see what others may be saying hit the comments link under the heading above.



Comment from peter piper
Time August 1, 2012 at 8:31 am

“Only a democratic working class revolution can begin and complete that task”

Democracy will ocur next year when “the people” decide. Oh…forgot, you lot don’t care what the people think, you know what is best for them (im sure Hitler had similar thoughts).
The boxer (looks whiter than me by the way) has buried the T shirt and apologised….good boy.

Comment from Andrew
Time August 1, 2012 at 9:56 am

I agree that Hooper can wear the flag, no problem at all there as far as I can see. The olympics in general is a load of bull, but also since Harold Thomas copyrighted his flag design it is equivalent in status (as far as the rules go) as a Nike swoosh or Reebok whatever that thing is.

As for the rest of this article….
I’m pretty sure the olympics were pre-capitalism. Maybe they’ve been bastardised, but they were/are still a platform to recognise skill, strength and speed. Plenty of communist/ex-communist countries punch of their weight at the olympics, so it’s not a capitalist thing per se.

It’s your own problem if you decide to join a gym, most of us workers play football/afl/rugby other team sports and get with that another strong group of connections within the community.

That paragrpah about all sportingness being neoliberal almost made me choke on my weetbix. Sport is something you can do without paying money – that’s part of the joy of it.

Comment from John
Time August 1, 2012 at 11:28 am

The modern Olympics began in 1896. Of course sport and more generally exercise should be and can be fun, but like all things under capitlaism it is being commodified more and more. I love taking my dog for long walks in the back paddocks near our place. it is an escape form the pressures of the world and like an antidepressant. but the development of pay for gyms is part of the process of commodifying our exercise and de-emphasizing co-operation.

Comment from John
Time August 1, 2012 at 11:31 am

The communist countries aren’t socialist; they are or were state capitlaist. Most workers don’t play football. Many workers are women for a start. And women are a prime target for gyms. And men over 35 or 40 don’t play football generally. Same goes with cricket.