We will never see the likes of Ali again

Bray People - - OPINION - with Dar­ragh Clif­ford

MIR­ROR, mir­ror on the wall, who’s the great­est of them all? It’s a ques­tion that is de­press­ingly trudged out all- too fre­quently in mod­ern day dis­cus­sions on pop­u­lar cul­ture. The great­est al­bum, the great­est film, the great­est actor, etc.

Throw sport into the equa­tion and you open up a hor­net’s nest of ‘great­est’ de­bates. Is Messi the great­est ever foot­baller? Or was it Pele? Was Jack Nick­laus the great­est golfer ever, or do we give that ti­tle to Tiger? Was Sh­ef­flin bet­ter than Ring? The list is en­dles.

The sad pass­ing of Muham­mad Ali at the age of 74 last week­end brought into fo­cus what it means to be truly great, and high­lighted how the three-time heavy­weight cham­pion of the world touched the hearts and minds of mil­lions around the world in a man­ner to­day’s sports stars could only dream of.

Ali was a supreme ath­lete who trans­formed box­ing at a time when its star was be­gin­ning to wane. He turned pro after win­ning gold at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome and won his first world ti­tle when he sen­sa­tion­ally de­feated Sonny Lis­ton in 1964. Ali was just 22 at the time.

He be­came a global su­per­star, known in ev­ery town and vil­lage across the world. But it was Ali’s con­duct out­side of the ring that re­ally set him apart. He was drafted into the US Army in 1967, but re­fused to go. He was sen­tenced to five years in prison, but avoided jail on ap­peal. He was also stripped of his box­ing li­cence and would not fight again un­til 1970 when the US Supreme Court over­turned his con­vic­tion.

His de­ci­sion not to go to Viet­nam di­vided Amer­ica, with many brand­ing it a cow­ardly act. But Ali stood firm, he be­lieved it was the right thing to do and he was not for turn­ing.

Now imag­ine for a mo­ment what it would be like for a mod­ern-day sport­ing icon to hold a sim­i­lar po­si­tion. Imag­ine Cris­tiano Ron­aldo re­fus­ing to par­tic­i­pate in the World Cup in protest over the al­leged cor­rup­tion at FIFA. Imag­ine Tiger Woods re­fus­ing to rep­re­sent the USA in the Ry­der Cup be­cause of his coun­try’s oc­cu­pa­tion of Iraq? Or closer to home – could you imag­ine some­one of the cal­i­bre of Dublin All-Star Bernard Bro­gan speak­ing out at the gun vi­o­lence that is crip­pling his city?

The an­swer, sadly, is no. To­day’s sport stars live in a par­al­lel uni­verse, and more of­ten than not they dance to the spon­sors’ tune. Ev­ery state­ment and in­ter­view is pre-planned and care­fully crafted to tick all the right boxes – God for­bid they might of­fend some­one.

Muham­mad Ali de­fined an era, but sadly it is an era alien to the world we live in to­day. He lit up the world with his in­tox­i­cat­ing cock­tail of daz­zling skill and quick-fire turn of phrase.

When Ali be­came world cham­pion at the age of 22, he called him­self the great­est. And who are we to ar­gue?

Muham­mad Ali, known sim­ply as The Great­est.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.