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Opinions of Friday, 17 June 2016

Columnist: Amarkai Amarteifio

Tribute to the greatest

He is declared the greatest: The verdict is unanimous and it is well deserved. Indeed, never had it been so well deserved in the history of sports.

At 18 years, Cassius Marcelus Clay won the gold medal of the Light Heavyweight Division at the Rome Olympic Games. On the same night, Clement Ike Quartey (Snr) became the first African to win an Olympic medal. G.W. Amarteifio became the first African to qualify as an International Boxing Referee/Judge.

At the age of 22, Cassius Clay beat Sony Liston to win the Heavyweight crown, the youngest man to do so. Cassius Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali soon after this fight as he embraced Islam.

In 1967, at the height of Civil Rights Movement in America and in the campaign against the Vietnam War, Muhammad Ali refused to be drafted into the US Army and preferred to face the prospect of several years in jail. He obeyed his conscience and disobeyed the US government. He was stripped of his title for his dissent at the peak of his career. He thus forfeited three of his best years as a professional boxer. He became a hero to many across the world. He became a voice to the voiceless and a champion to the defenceless.

He defied the adage “they never come back” and came back in 1970 after winning his legal battle against the US government.

Two of his fights were monumental. The “rumble in the jungle” in Zaire (now the DRC) in 1974 where Ali defeated one of the hardest hitters in boxing, George Foreman: by adopting the rope-a-dope tactics; and the “Thrilla in Manila” in 1975, when Muhammad subdued his greatest rival “smoking” Joe Frazier in 14 bloody rounds. Muhammad Ali’s life transcended sports. He gave the people of African descent good reason to be proud. He personified courage both inside and outside the ring. He inspired all people who were oppressed or unjustly treated by turning his back on wealth and fortune in the defence of his conscience.

He was witty, very intelligent and was blessed with good sense of humour. In 1983, Justice D.F Annan and I visited the US at the invitation of the State Department. We asked to meet Muhammad Ali and this was arranged. He was so excited to meet us in his home in Los Angeles. He asked if the land he was given on a mountain in Ghana had grown bigger with all the rain that has fallen on the land since 1964 when he visited Ghana at the invitation of President Kwame Nkrumah. He met his match in wit; Justice Annan replied that in Ghana the law ensures that the land grows deeper when the rain falls on it, not bigger and not wider. I declared the context of wits a draw. The decision was accepted by both contestants who embraced with such warmth.

He talked about Ghana with fondest of memories. He remembered the good looking Ike Quartey(Snr) who won a silver medal the very night he won his gold medal in the Rome Olympic Games of 1960. He remembered G.W Amarteifio in Rome in the 1960 Olympics when Mr Amarteifio became the first African to qualify as international referee/judge. He also remembered G.W Amarteifio as the man who stopped the fight in Mexico City that earned George Foreman the gold medal in his fight against a Russian opponent in the 1968 Olympic Games. What a coincidence that G. W. Amarteifio would be one of the judges in the Rumble in the Jungle.

It was a privilege to spend time with this great specimen of mankind. This visit will live with me for the rest of my life. He made you feel as if he had known you all his life.

The legend and legacy of Muhammad Ali transcended boxing and sports in general.

Muhammad Ali will live forever. He was truly loved all over the globe.

Fare thee well brother!!