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Historic moment for reconciliation and sport at world event

[by Rebecca Lollback]


The Torres Strait Islander, Australian and Aboriginal flags were flown side-by-side officially for the first time at an international sporting event earlier this year, the outrigger World Sprint Championships. Image: supplied

A historic moment for sport and reconciliation took place at the outrigger World Sprint Championships in London earlier this year, and it was all thanks to the efforts of two Townsville women.


The opening ceremony was the first time the Aboriginal flag, the Torres Strait Islander flag and the Australian flag had been flown in an official capacity at an international sporting event.


Nicola Hoey, a Local Area Coordinator with charity Feros Care, was competing with the Far North Queensland team and representing Australia at the championships. She took the flags with her to London after a special blessing by her Feros Care colleague, Rianna Nisbet.


“To raise the three flags and have all countries walk behind us at the march felt incredibly significant,” Nicola said.


“The copyright for the Aboriginal flag had not been released to the Australian Government until January 2022, so it was the first time these flags had official consent to be flown, which made it even more important to have them blessed by Rianna.


“I feel this was just the start of what will become a very normal acknowledgement.”


Nicola and Rianna said it was a significant step in Australia’s journey towards reconciliation.


As a First Nations person herself, Rianna said it was shocking that athletes had not previously been able to compete under the Aboriginal flag.


“Seeing the photos Nicola sent back from overseas was such a proud moment for me – my flag flying in the UK breeze, recognised on the world stage. I felt proud and humbled that I had been invited and included in such a wonderful event and moment in time,” she said.


“I can vividly remember Cathy Freeman, with the weight of all our hopes and dreams on her back, running a victory lap carrying our Aboriginal flag as well as the Australian flag after winning gold at the Sydney Olympics. But at the time that was illegal at major sporting events, because our flag wasn’t ‘recognised’ by the International Olympic Committee.


“The fact that people are now able to compete under our three national flags is such a game changer for all First Nations athletes, now and into the future.


“I hope that more international sporting communities take this on. It’s a beautiful thing and leaves everyone feeling uplifted and connected with the strong lifeforce and ancient energy that flows through Australia, that they are part of something bigger.”


Nicola and Rianna are passionate advocates for reconciliation, and through their work at Feros Care, have been able to inspire changes in their communities.


“You don’t need to have a PhD or be a politician to influence change,” Rianna said.


“One act, one decision, that’s where it all must start. With us. Little acts by all of us every day that change society’s perception of First Nations people’s rights to self-determination and recognition on their own land. A natural cultural embedment of our culture in all aspects of society.”


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