By GREG ANSLEY
Champion Australian sprinter Cathy Freeman will be allowed to carry the Aboriginal flag if she wins gold at the Sydney Games, despite an International Olympic Committee ruling that victorious athletes should carry only national flags.
Freeman created a storm of controversy when she draped herself in the Aboriginal flag rather than the Australian flag after winning 400m at the Vancouver Commonwealth Games six years ago.
But Olympic supremo Juan Antonio Samaranch is determined that there will be no controversy should she crown her career with an Olympic victory.
"The only thing I can say to you on behalf of the IOC is we will not stop an athlete running with a flag," he said.
Mr Samaranch met Aboriginal leaders yesterday for a briefing on the issues behind their protests and on activists' plans, which will begin with a human chain on roads leading out of Sydney's international airport.
Protest coordinator Jenny Munro said the IOC chief had indicated he would say something about Aboriginal issues in his addresses during the Games, although he did not say what these would contain.
Ms Munro told ABC Radio that Mr Samaranch understood the Aboriginal policy of protests and had been assured that no demonstrations would be mounted at the Homebush site.
"We do not have any intention to go out there and disrupt the Games in any way, shape or form and we continue to abide by that commitment," she said.
"I think Mr Samaranch has a much better understanding of the complexity of Aboriginal cultural norms now."
Australia's treatment of its indigenous population has become, with its human rights stand, a focus for thousands of international journalists packing Sydney.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister John Howard - in New York for the United Nations millennium summit of world leaders - has been defending his controversial decision to ban UN human rights teams from Australia and to refuse to sign a new protocol on women's rights.
Mr Howard said he had told Secretary-General Kofi Annan that Australia's action was directed at perceived failings in the operation of UN committees.
"I assured him ... that our concerns about the committee system, which are quite real, do not indicate any desire to turn away from the human rights values and goals of the UN, which of course Australia has been a vigorous defender of and remains so," Mr Howard said.
"But we are unhappy with the way the committee system operates and I was able to tell him that directly."