When the viewers of BBC television voted Muhammad Ali the Sports Personality of the Century at the start of the new millennium the result of the poll wasn’t questioned in any quarter – quite simply there was only ever going to be one winner.
From his arrival on the world stage at the 1960 Rome Olympics, his career surpassed his chosen sport. He was one of the biggest cultural icons the world has ever seen, up there, in my opinion, with the likes of Mandela and Gandhi.
A man of unique talent, with a personality, and equally as significant principles to match, we will never see his like again. In conversations this week with a colleague, I stated I felt that Ali’s passing and the subsequent plethora of tributes would never be seen again globally, with possibly the exception of Her Majesty the Queen. He countered by saying that he thought Pele or Sir Bobby Charlton would have a similar impact.
While I have the utmost respect for both of those footballers, I have to disagree. Love him or loathe him, everyone knew Ali and giving up arguably three of the best years of his career because of what he believed in, and was prepared to go to jail for, all added to the legend. There quite simply isn’t another sportsman in history who has had this happen to him, only to return to the peak of his sport.
My first memory before the aid of archives was seeing him on BBC trailers for his come-back fight in 1971 against Joe Frazier, “Watch BBC and see Joe Frazier and me”, even at six years old I can remember it as if it was on TV last night. When they did meet at Madison Square Garden, with Frank Sinatra at Ringside taking pictures for Sports Illustrated, Ali suffered his first professional defeat. But he came back, not only to defeat Frazier twice but then have his defining fight in Zaire in 1974 against George Foreman.
The Rumble in the Jungle is where it should all have ended. He said at that time it was to be his last fight but it wasn’t. His career continued for another seven years, when due to his declining health it shouldn’t have.
A fit Ali of sound mind would have gone on to be a great political leader and in these troubled times might have been a much-needed antidote to the religious hatred we see currently around the world.
He wasn’t perfect, but who is. He made mistakes along the way, but with his hardest fight against Parkinson’s Disease he has been an inspiration to people all around the world.
Goodnight Champ, you truly were the Greatest.
Working on the old adage of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” I’m wondering whose idea it was at Sussex CCC to change the format of how spectators watch T20 games?
Gone is the very popular mound at the top of the ground which, when busy, really added to the whole atmosphere of the evening. Instead, it’s been replaced by temporary plastic seating and, in my opinion, it’s clearly lost something and I’m not the only one to think this. Time for a re-think at Hove?
And, finally, obviously remembering Mr Ali is a priority but I couldn’t sign off this week without a Euro 16 prediction.
As stated last week, any England squad is open to debate and, despite a truly forgettable Wembley farewell last week, England travel to France with a degree of optimism, regardless of the obligatory detractors.
With the players available, last eight is probably the expectation but I’m going to go for one better and say we will reach the semis.
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