Op-Edge: Muhammad Ali was the people’s champ - not No 10's or the White House’

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Bill Clinton (L) greets Muhammed Ali (R) at the National Italian American Foundation Anniversary Award dinner in Washington October 28, 2000 © Reuters
On Friday, the world says farewell to the Greatest. Muhammad Ali, who died last week, will never be forgotten. RT's Richard Sudan argues we must not let leaders who stand for the antithesis of what he fought for hitch a ride on his legacy.

What we can say with certainty is that Ali made a rare kind of impact on the world stage. He touched the hearts and caught the imaginations of several generations including mine.

Many phrases have been thrown around in the media over the course of the last week, talking about how Ali “transcended race” and “transcended divisions” in a cynical attempt to remove the man’s politics from his legacy. We must not allow that to happen.

For me, my father’s generation, and my grandfather’s, Ali highlighted the real divisions in the world and far from transcending them or co-signing them, he forced a conversation about race and inequality at a time when it was political suicidal to do so. Ali paid the price for his convictions, not just politically; during his peak years he was stripped of his sporting achievements as a result of his views and his rejection of war and imperialism.

Ali’s politics and his stance on issues of global importance must never be watered down or sanitized. Ali was a proud anti-imperialist and was unapologetically committed to empowering black people in America and around the world. He stood steadfast with the Global South and during his time at the top championed the rights of black people in the US, while also standing steadfast with oppressed peoples in places like Palestine.

Championing such causes as he frequently did was even less popular back in Ali’s day than they are now. However, today, just as then, holding views similar to Ali’s is still often viewed as ‘fringe’ or extreme.

The reality is that Ali’s positions and views unapologetically challenged deep-seated racism and social injustice in America and around the world.

Black empowerment and Black Pride in the 1960s and 1970s in the US demanded a champion such as Ali. He was like the rose that grew from the concrete.

Perversely, leaders such as David Cameron and the political establishment have been quick to line up next to Ali’s legacy in an opportunistic frenzy.

Cameron wrote on Twitter: “Muhammad Ali was not just a champion in the ring - he was a champion of civil rights, and a role model for so many people.”

His sense of irony knows no bounds. David Cameron, just as his party, has always been an opponent of true civil rights. Ali once visited Libya in a show of solidarity to the African and the Arab world, whereas Cameron along with his French counterpart oversaw the invasion, destruction and devastation of Libya in 2011 as part of a NATO operation.

Cameron was equally hypocritical when Nelson Mandela died. He wrote a gushing tribute, despite the fact that both he and his party always considered Nelson Mandel and the ANC to be ‘terrorists’.

The role of people like Muhammad Ali has therefore always been necessary, precisely because warmongering imperialists such as David Cameron exist in powerful positions. Cameron and his ilk represent in every possible and conceivable way the very things Ali spent his life fighting against.

The hypocrisy is not just limited to the UK. Former US President Bill Clinton will play a key part in the funeral of Muhammed Ali. Yet it was Bill Clinton who significantly hurt the black community in America with his crime bill, while Hillary helped to ferment the idea of the ‘super predator’ aimed at young black males in America. By contrast, Ali sought to debunk deeply held stereotypes, to uplift his people and provide hope.

Ali was a vocal opponent of the political establishment and ultimately he paid the price for it. Can we honestly imagine a boxer today taking a stand the way he did over the Vietnam War? Could we really imagine Anthony Joshua or Floyd Mayweather, or Klitschko becoming anti-war advocates over Libya or Syria, and dealing with the consequences no matter what?

At Ali’s funeral and in the coming days more and more opportunists will seek to associate themselves with Ali’s legacy, but it’s our job to tell the true story of the man, flaws and all, and to never allow those Ali stood against to water down his legacy for political gain. Muhammad Ali was and always will be the people’s champ, our champ, and not theirs.

READ MORE OF RICHARD SUDAN'S WORK HERE