By Canberk Yuksel
LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (AA) – The U.S. city of Louisville, Kentucky, is faced with a seemingly daunting task -- that of sending off one of the biggest personalities of the 20th century.
Muhammad Ali, who died last Friday aged 74, was born and raised in this city; now it is the time for the city to say goodbye to a legend.
Ali -- who fought a long battle with Parkinson’s disease -- will be laid to rest after a traditional Muslim prayer service on Thursday followed by a memorial to honor ‘The Greatest’ on Friday.
The city has rallied to send Ali off in the best manner possible. On Wednesday an 'I am Ali' festival attracted 12,000 visitors within just seven hours.
Mayor Greg Fischer told reporters at a news conference on Wednesday that the turnout was “incredible”.
“Our city’s outpouring of love this week for Muhammad has been just what ‘The Greatest’ would have wanted when he came home for the last time.
“Our job now is to send the champ off with the dignity and respect and class that he deserves.”
Bob Gunnell, spokesman for the Ali family, said that Ali’s wife Lonnie was “amazed” to hear how people formed long queues to get tickets -- free of charge, as Ali wanted -- to the memorial service.
“She [Lonnie] laughed and said: ‘Muhammad is directing all of this, and he's enjoying every minute of it.’”
The people of Louisville have flooded the Muhammad Ali Center to pay their tributes and learn more about his legacy.
Elaine Grewer, coming out of the center with her granddaughters, told Anadolu Agency she was “very sad for the loss of his wife and the family”.
“He’s just a few years older than I. My husband and I always followed him and I was very proud of him because of what he represented,” she added.
Unlike Elaine, who got the chance to meet the legend himself, her teenage granddaughter Adajabour has to read and research about him, assigned by her father.
“At the end of the day I have to read an article about [Ali], and I have to write what I learned about him today. I’ll probably write about how great of a fighter he was and what he did to show all that they can do anything that they want and that they are proud [of],” she said.
Thousands of tickets for Friday’s memorial service have been handed out on a first-come first-served basis. Changed forever by the boxing great, Louisville seems eager to give Ali a great send-off.
However, memorial organizers hit out at some ticketholders who are undermining Ali’s wishes of making his memorial service free and accessible to as many people as possible.
After getting their tickets, some people sought to make a profit by trying to sell them online, Gunnel said, describing the practice as “despicable”.
“It is deplorable that some people are trying to profit off of a solemn service as we celebrate the life of Muhammad Ali,” Gunnel said, warning that the practice was illegal and those who attempted it would be reported to the police.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be among the thousands of mourners expected at Ali's funeral and memorial.