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Hooper apologises over flag gesture
By Steve Jancetic and Paul Mulvey
21:23 AEST Tue Jul 31 2012

He did it for his people, but Australian boxer Damien Hooper has promised not to repeat his entry to the Olympic ring with the Aboriginal flag proudly emblazoned across his chest.

Hooper 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 on Monday.

It went against Australian team and International Olympic Committee (IOC) rules, which state athletes must only wear the official team uniform.

Australia's chef de mission Nick Green on Tuesday said he had spoken to Hooper who apologised and promised not to wear the shirt again.

But Hooper seemed unrepentant after beating Browne with a brutal third round onslaught.

"What do you reckon? I'm Aboriginal, I'm representing my culture, not only my country but all my people as well," Hooper said.

"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."

Green, however, spoke to Hooper on Tuesday morning and said the boxer told him he was unaware of the IOC's rule.

"We know Damien's got a very proud indigenous heritage," Green said.

"I've had a conversation with Damien, he's extremely apologetic for his actions. He has confirmed with me it was a one off and he won't do it again. He was very remorseful.

"He's apologised and looked me in the eye and said he won't do it again."

Green said no action would be taken against Hooper and the IOC was happy for the Australian Olympic Committee to deal with the matter.

Aboriginal lobby group the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples says Hooper has no reason to apologise.

"Boxer Damien Hooper has a right to show his identity as an Aboriginal person in the Australian team," the congress said in a statement.

"He has nothing to apologise for being proud of who he is and where he came from.

"Our peoples should be able to show that they are both Aboriginal and Australian.

"Congress encourages the Australian Olympic Committee to find a way through this bureaucratic insanity."

His action had echoes of the Cathy Freeman-Arthur Tunstall controversy 18 years earlier.

Freeman celebrated her 200m gold at the 1994 Commonwealth Games 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.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda said he was disappointed the focus was on the rules breach and not on Hooper's impressive achievements.

"The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are proud of Hooper," he said.

"I do not believe that Damien should have to apologise for wearing the Aboriginal flag.

"He has admitted he broke a rule and as far as I am concerned that is adequate, however, I encourage the IOC to change their rules to allow for the recognition of indigenous peoples.

Gooda said the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags are recognised as official flags of Australia, and shouldn't be viewed simply as a political statement.

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