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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 11 June 2016
28 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 11 JUNE 2016 SPORT DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM ISSN 1321-1676 9 771321 167062 Do it like Ali Muhammad Ali became the greatest athlete of the 20th century by becoming the embodiment of a larger ideal. Adam Goodes took notice. Nick Kyrgios, sadly, did not NIKOS FOTAKIS “Remember who you are/And what you represent.” When Louis Armstrong sang these words in 1962, nobody expected him to become political and add his voice to the rising civil rights movement. He was one of those artists loved by all, and it is telling of his popularity that, a couple of years later, he would knock the Beatles out of the #1 spot with his hit Hello Dolly. But in 1962, the usually smiling, generous ‘Pops’ had had enough. Reacting to the news of conservative Arkansas governor, Orvill Faubus ordering the National Guard to implement a segregation policy on schools, he pulled out of a StateDepartment funded ‘jazz ambassadors’ international tour, saying: “The way the government are treating my people in the south, they can go to hell.” For people who had written Armstrong off as an ‘Uncle Tom’ figure in American culture (“I don’t get involved in politics,” he had once said, “I just blow my horn”), this was a turning point. It’s not certain if all that managed to get the attention of a certain Cassius Clay, the light-weight boxer who, at the age of 18, had won the gold medal in the 1960 Rome Olympics. A couple of years later, he would change his name to Muhammad Ali and become the greatest boxer to ever have lived (some think he was the greatest athlete of the 20th century) and one of the leading figures of the civil rights movement, someone who would use his success, fame and popularity to divert attention to a greater cause. For the past week, all tributes to the boxer, who passed on Friday 3 June, at the age of 72, made sure to state his history as an activist, especially as one of the most vocal opponents to the drafting of young people to fight in Vietnam. “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”, he famously said in a statement that is now hailed as having historic value. “No, I am not going ten thousand miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over. [...] The real enemy of my people is right here. [...] I have nothing to lose by standing up for my beliefs. So I’ll go to jail. We’ve been in jail for four hundred years.” Ali was arrested as a conscientious objector and was stripped of his boxing titles, but he had risen up to a more prominent status − that of an icon of the struggle for equality, justice and civil liberties. What is more important is that he embraced his dual role - that of an athlete and an activist - proving to the world that, in fact, there is no duality in it. His status as a boxer was not something separate to his activism; he used his fists the way politicians use words, his sportsmanship was his rhetoric, he became a champion by being a champion of his people, fighting against oppression, one match at a time. This is what has made him a larger than life figure, the greatest athlete of the 21st century, someone to look up to and be inspired from. His stance showed to the world that it is wrong to separate sports from politics, to believe that sport is a parallel universe, immune to the reality of life’s burdens. Fifty years after Ali stood up for his people, the mainstream view of an athlete’s role in the community has not changed. We continue to expect athletes to act as entertainers and leave politics aside. When AFL star Adam Goodes took a leaf out of Muhammad Ali’s book and celebrated a goal by performing an Indigenous war dance (and miming throwing a spear in the direction of the opposing team’s squad) last year, he was booed and cyberbullied to the point of retiring from AFL (and shutting down his social media accounts). Numerous pundits were screaming at him from their radio microphones and their chairs on TV panels, trying to use him as an example to anyone else who might want to use their success to remind sports viewers - those happily oblivious clients to sponsorship mechanisms - that sports is not a bubble that leaves the world outside. Goodes remembers “who he is and what he represents”; he is the living embodiment of a long-repressed part of Australia’s population struggling against endemic and systemic racism to rise to prominence and excellence. Which would be a cause for the broader community to embrace and celebrate. Goodes’ pride is not something to be afraid of. It is something to be encouraged, as proof of Australia’s evolution to collective maturity. Nick Kyrgios, on the other hand, does not seem to care to represent anyone but himself. Accusing the Australian Olympic Committee of “unfair and unjust” treatment, he withdrew from participating in the Rio Olympics, beating the AOC from having to ban him, due to his conduct. A short-fused, hot-tempered, highly-competitive athlete, Kyrgios seems to have been born for stardom. Defying rules (and ‘the Olympic values’), he dismisses and bullies his opponents, looks down to everyone, is self-centred and selfimportant. Failing to understand the moral side of being a sports side, he is actually failing his people, losing touch with the same followers who could support him. His arrogant stance is not only hurting him - and his chances of gold medals; it is actually a disgrace for the broader Greek Australian community, much more so than a hot-headed fascist bringing a flare gun to a soccer game. In terms of pop culture, he seems to fit in according to a universe reigned by the likes of Kanye West and the Kardashians (long gone are the days of Louis Armstrong and the Beatles). In a way, he’s a product of his times, much more so than Goodes. But what is evident in both cases, as different as they may be, is the complete failure of the sports world to understand its role in the community. We still have a long way ahead, in order to understand Muhammad Ali’s message.
4 June 2016
18 June 2016