Ali now trending…..even transcending

6 Jun

A weekend to consider sportsmen and push politicians to the corners of our minds. Mohammad Ali’s death brought with it the necessary hyperbole as the world’s media tried to capture the impact of the greatest boxer, probably the greatest sportsman of the twentieth century. He transcended boxing, his influence transcended sport, so we heard. The T word is often used to convey a degree of influence and excellence beyond that of the activity for which someone is paid. Transcendent Ali certainly was- and somewhat transcendental into the bargain. As a teenage growing up during the height of his fame and power, he was simply the greatest sporting show on earth.

Ali’s rejection of the ‘slave’ name by which his fame had first flickered, Cassius Clay, was the first of many publicly honourable and seismic shifts in his life which became world headlines. Embracing Islam; rejecting the draft and suffering nearly 4 years in the boxing wilderness; wit and wisdom to fight with words as well as fists; showmanship of an unparalleled order; extraordinary public exposure of his decline-by-Parkinson’s; and the Parkinson Show, of course. A few marital slips ‘twixt cup and lip but heroes need an Achilles heel,  I suppose.

Now he’s gone; another hero bites the dust. Are we running out of titans who raise the spirits and transcend? Well, I thought Djokovic got close to transcendent when he defeated grunty, grumbly Andy at Roland Garros on Sunday. The sheer elan of the Serbian makes him, along with Federer, a man of some substance. Both of them have sportsmanship writ large in the psyche. Novak was supreme in his graciousness in victory. All four slams in one year. There is something about the man v man, woman v woman gladiatorial thing. The confrontation is raised to a heroic level that team sport can’t quite manage. To be fair to shouty Andy, his magnanimity in defeat was heartwarming and noble. George Foreman talking about his old adversary, Ali, likewise. The Rumble in the Jungle lives on.

Now politicians don’t transcend much do they? This literary technique which I have just employed is bathos – a somewhat ludicrous descent from the exalted to the ordinary. Geddit? The EU back (and front) stabbing debates have been evasive, shabby, vindictive, scaremongering, fictional (mostly), unworthy, divisive, uninformative and unprincipled. This last word – unprincipled – may be the most significant. The rhetoric has rarely risen above the gutter when most of us want to aim for the stars – or something like that. Cameron and Corbyn have been abjectly disappointing. So too, the little minx north of the border. Sturge the scourge is backing both horses, methinks. Principles be hanged.

As for pouty Gove and Boris the Spider – they have reduced the whole thing to an opportunistic roadshow of high-sounding nothings. No wonder the media people were pleased to stop the front pages for Ali this weekend. The footage from the last 60years told a mesmeric tale. His grandstanding was part-circus, part high-principles. As a boxer he was the consummate and brave ringmaster with a smile on his face and a lion in his heart. Boris and the others fall woefully short. Our politicians need to find some honest values from somewhere, stick to them, work hard and behave honourably. Most of them will never find themselves in the position of defying the US government, fighting for the right to eat in a restaurant in their home town or face the biggest, most brutal punchers on the planet. Sadly they are more bovvered by trending, than transcending.

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