Statue honours footballers stand against racism

Nicky Winmar statue at Optus StadiumImage copyright

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Nicky Winmar’s iconic gesture, immortalised in bronze at Optus Stadium in Perth

A statue of the moment an Aboriginal Australian football player stood up to racists has been unveiled in Perth.

Nicky Winmar’s team St Kilda had just won a match against Colingwood in 1993 when he made the iconic gesture that would go down in sports history.

Rival fans hurled racist abuse at Winmar – so he lifted his shirt, pointed to his chest and declared: “I’m black, and I’m proud to be black.”

Winmar, now 52, said it feels “surreal” to be immortalised in bronze.

“I hope this statue encourages more conversations and education about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture,” he said at Optus Stadium on Saturday, in comments reported by Australian Associated Press.

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Nicky Winmar beams as the statue is unveiled

Remembering that day’s racist abuse, he told local paper The Age: “It was an attack on my family and me, they attacked who I was – something I couldn’t change.

“Footy is for everyone, no matter where you come from, who you are, men, women, children, black or white, rich or poor.”

‘I’m proud to be black’

St Kilda – also known as the Saints – played against Colingwood, aka the Magpies, at Victoria Park, a suburb of Perth on 17 April 1993.

Magpies fans screamed racist slurs before, during and after the game, even spitting and throwing cans at Winmar and his Indigenous teammate Gilbert McAdam.

Although this wasn’t unusual – racism in sports was rife – WA Today reports that the abuse that day was so bad, McAdam’s father left the stadium in tears.

“We made a pact that we were going to go out there and do our best, and win the game,” Winmar told photographer Wayne Ludbey in an interview last year. Mr Ludbey had been photographing the match for the Australian paper, Sunday Age.

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Nicky Winmar, right, with his St Kilda teammate Gilbert McAdam in 1990

When the final siren declared the Saints’ victory, Winmar blew kisses to the crowd. But the racist abuse was getting louder and more intense.

It was then that Winmar lifted his team shirt to boldly expose his brown skin underneath.

As the crowd continued to jeer, he shouted out to them: “I’m black, and I’m proud to be black.”

The moment was captured on camera by Mr Ludbey, who pushed for the image – and Winmar’s defiant words – to be printed on the front page of the next day’s Sunday Age.

Mr Ludbey told ABC Radio Perth that what Winmar did was “something that you weren’t used to seeing and photographing on the football field”.

“I knew immediately it needed to be recorded in the following days’ Sunday Age,” he said. “The paper was set, and I made the editors change the paper. I kept repeating the quote because I knew it was so important.”

His insistence worked. The photo and quote appeared on the front page of the next day’s edition, and the image became enshrined in Australian history. Now, 26 years later, it has been cast in bronze and erected in front of the stadium, as a permanent reminder of Winmar’s courage.

“There are moments in sport that capture the public imagination and transcend the game,” Gillon McLachlan, chief executive of the Australian Football League (AFL), said.

“Nicky Winmar’s defiant stance proclaiming his pride about his Aboriginality is one of those moments.”

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