In what will be seen as a bold political and social statement, the Aboriginal athlete, Cathy Freeman, has tonight lit the flame to open the Games of the 27th Olympiad in Sydney, Australia.
Watched by the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, whose government has legislated to restrict native title claims, which disputes the existence of a “stolen generation” of Aboriginal children, and which also refuses to make a national apology, Freeman was the last of a succession of Australian female athletes to carry the flame into the Homebush Stadium.
The Olympic flame was carried into the stadium by Herb Elliot and passed to Betty Cuthbert, Raelene Boyle, Dawn Fraser, Shirley Strickland, Shane Gould, Debbie Flintoff-King and then Freeman, in celebration of 100 years of women’s participation in the Games.
Earlier, a lone horseman charged onto the stadium, followed by 120 men and women on horseback. They welcomed the crowd in classic Australian idiom: “G’day”.
Later, the Governor-General, Sir William Deane, obviously overcome with emotion, stutteringly declared the games open, colliding with the microphone as he stepped back.