UPDATES WITH TURKISH PRESIDENT AND PM’S CONDOLENCE MESSAGES
By Tuncay Kayaoglu and Ahmet Sait Akcay
ISTANBUL (AA) - The death of boxing legend Muhammad Ali was greeted with widespread grief across Turkey, particularly among boxing figures and fans.
The former world heavyweight champion died Friday at the age of 74 in the U.S. city of Phoenix, Arizona, a family spokesman said. He was suffering from a respiratory illness, complicated by Parkinson’s disease.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan extended his condolences to Muhammad Ali’s wife Lonnie Ali over the phone Saturday.
Erdogan conveyed his deepest sadness and wished Allah's blessings on Ali.
He told the legend’s wife that Muhammad Ali had an exceptional place among Turkish nation and Muslims. Lonnie Ali thanked the president for his call.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim also offered condolences to the family of Ali.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Muhammad Ali who became a symbol for people fighting injustice and unfairness, and those who were marginalized due to their skin color and beliefs,” Yildirim said in a statement.
“Muhammad Ali was a representative of high moral values, virtue and belief along with his highly qualified successes in sports,” it read.
Seyfullah Dumlupinar, coach of the Turkish boxing team, described the loss of the man widely recognized as the world’s greatest boxer and one of its most influential sporting figures.
“Boxing lost its father and idol,” Dumlupinar, 48, told Anadolu Agency. “Because of Ali, many people became boxers and Muslims.”
Dumlupinar said he had been inundated with phone calls from friends and members of the boxing community grieving Ali’s death.
“Ali was a legend,” Eyup Gozgec, chairman of the Turkish Boxing Federation, said. “He had a unique style and figure, as well as an exemplary persona.”
Gozgec said Ali’s death was a tragedy for Muslims as well as boxing fans.
Ali was known as Cassius Clay before he embraced Islam in 1975. He began attending meetings of the Nation of Islam, a group which combined Islamic teaching with black political activism, in the early 60s.
He held the heavyweight title on three separate occasions and his fights are among the greatest in the sport. However, it was his charisma and devotion to causes such as civil rights that led to him transcending boxing.
- Greatest of all time
Cemal Kamaci, a prominent Turkish boxer whose career spanned the roughly same period as Ali’s, said: “The world has not seen a boxer like him. He was such a boxer who could knock out his opponents at any moment.”
The 73-year-old, a former super lightweight who was the first Turkish boxer to win a European title, recalled meeting Ali in a gym during a trip to the U.S.
“When he learned that I am a Muslim, he hugged me,” Kamaci told Anadolu Agency.
Elsewhere in sport, Turkey and Barcelona footballer Arda Turan tweeted: “RIP the greatest of all time”.
Hidayet Turkoglu, a former basketball player and now an advisor to Turkey’s president, said Ali conquered hearts and boxing rings while Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus paid tribute to Ali as a “world star as well as Muslims’ strong voice”.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu tweeted that Ali remained an inspiration for thousands of people through his sporting ethics and faith.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party, highlighted Ali’s stand against injustice and unfairness and many social media users commented on his opposition to the Vietnam War in spite of the damage it did to his early career.
His decision to refuse the draft led to Ali being stripped of his title and boxing license. He did not fight for four years.
Ali leaves behind his wife Lonnie, seven daughters and two sons and a legacy likely to remain unmatched in either the sporting or wider world.