First Nations Representation in the Tokyo Olympics

The Tokyo Olympic Games has come to an end and Australia has done incredibly, coming home with a total of 46 medals. This year's Olympics also saw the largest number of First Nations athletes to ever be selected for the Australian Olympic team, with 16 Indigenous athletes competing across 11 different sports (NIT, 2021). It is wonderful to see the achievements of Indigenous athletes on the world stage. These amazing athletes represented Australia and their culture becoming huge sources of inspiration for young aspiring Indigenous athletes.

Noongar boxer Alex Winwood. Courtesy of AAP Image.

The road to these successes has not been easy. Despite the fact that the games first began in 1896, First Nations athletes were not picked for the Australian team until the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo. At these games, it was basketballer Michael Ah Matt and boxers Adrian Blair and Francis Roberts who made history. This was followed by the first Indigenous swimmer Samatha Riley, who won a bronze medal in the 100m Breastroke at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. As part of the Australian women’s field hockey team, the ‘Hockeyroos,’ Nova Peris-Kneebone became the first Aboriginal Australian to win a gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, USA. Nova was followed closely by track and field athlete Cathy Freeman in the 2000’s Sydney Olympics. Cathy Freeman’s gold win made a huge impact and it is commonly cited by other Indigenous and non-Indigenous  Australian athletes as the ‘Olympic moment that inspired them the most’ (ABC News, 2021). You can learn more about Cathy Freeman’s incredible impact and ongoing good work in our previous post “The Lasting Effect Cathy Freeman Winning Gold has had on our Nation.”

Some incredibly talented First Nations athletes competed across 11 different sports, such as: Basketball, Beach Volleyball, Tennis, Hockey, Rugby Sevens, Softball, Track and Field, Weightlifting, Shooting and Boxing (NIT, 2021). 

The Australian men’s Basketball team of the Boomers claimed the nation's first ever medal in the sport, winning bronze. The side was captained by Kokatha, Naghiralgal and Dauareb-Meriam man Patty Mills, who also made history by becoming the first Indigenous Australian flag bearer. The women's basketball team of the Opals made it to the quarter finals - one of their key players was Torres Strait Islander woman, Leilani Mitchell (NIT, 2021).


Patty Mills the first Indigenous flag bearer. Courtesy of Inside the Games, 2021.

Anaiwan woman Kyah Simon and Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta woman Lydia Williams played as a part of the Matildas. The campaign was a rollercoaster of emotions with Kyah Simon making history as the first Indigenous footballer to reach 100 caps. The team also stood proud with the Aboriginal flag before their match against New Zealand. They held the flag as the NZ players dropped to one knee in solidarity (NIT, 2021).

Beach Volleyball
Wulli Wulli woman Taliqua Clancy and partner Mariafe Artacho del Solar represented Australia on the podium for the first time in 21 years for the sport. The incredible pair brought home a silver medal (NIT, 2021).

Wulli Wulli volleyball player Taliqua Clancy. Courtesy of Australian Olympic Team, 2021.

In boxing, Noongar man Alex Winwood made his Olympic debut competing in the flyweight event. He also became the first Indigenous athlete to be elected on the Australian Olympic Committee Athletes Commission (ABC News, 2021).

Indigenous Olympic uniform design. Courtesy of ABC News, 2021.

Representation of First Nations culture was not only seen through the athletes, but also in the 2021 Olympic team uniforms. The uniform range titled ‘Walking Together’ included a shirt designed by Indigenous artist and Olympic boxer, Yuggera man Paul Fleming.The artwork features 52 pairs of footsteps representing the number of Indigenous athletes that have competed in the games. The centrepiece of the design depicts a meeting place, representative of how the Olympic games brings people together from different backgrounds and religions to compete for the same goals. Indigenous athlete Rugby Sevens player Maurice Longbottom said to the Guardian, “It’s a huge honour to wear this. This is my culture, this is who I am” (Guardian, 2021).

Not only did the 2021 Olympics bring some incredible successes for First Nations athletes, it brought Indigenous representation to an international stage. We are in awe of what these athletes have achieved, and look forward to watching their incredible talents on home soil for the 2032 Brisbane Olympic Games!


 We at Yarn, acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work, the Yuggera and Turrbal peoples. We pay our respects to all Elders,
past, present and emerging.