Anthony Joshua: Sparring with Discrimination
By: Dan Power
“I’m just saying racism still exists” So said Floyd Mayweather in January of 2016. Here we are again but a year later and the question of racism looms its ugly head once more. The target, Britain’s Anthony Joshua. An athlete mere months away from the biggest fight of his career. A fight in which he’ll go head to head with a man who just so happens to be white.
The white vs black race war has often been played up to by boxing promoters themselves in years gone by. Their eagerness to dub promising young caucasian fighters “The Great White Hope” when paired up to face a black champion added a dimension to the match that played unapologetically on the racial profiles of the two men facing one another. However, it is actually away from the ring itself that this latest instance of racism has sprung. On a recent trip to Dubai the IBF champion uploaded a photograph to his Twitter account in which he could be seen praying in a mosque. Joshua himself has stated that he isn’t Muslim. Indeed, he has stressed that he doesn’t follow any one religion but that he does possess an interest in all aspects of them. He maintains what he does “believe” in, is spirituality and faith itself. It is a decidedly classy stance from a competitor who clearly respects the traditions and customs implicit in the different cultures across the world. In spite of this, after uploading the photo Joshua found himself subject to a barrage of hateful messages lambasting him for taking part in the Islamic prayer session.
Call it an unwanted consequence of human nature, or the residue from a time when we were a more tribal species, that racism still exists at all in this day and age is an unfortunate but accepted reality. The surprising thing in the case of Anthony Joshua, has been in the way that it has turned once patriotic supporters and fans into a heckling mob intent on spreading hate filled speech towards an athlete they had once chosen to cheer for. Anthony Joshua has represented his country of birth at Olympic level winning a gold medal in the process. Furthermore he continually acknowledges his pride at being British. That being said he also acknowledges his Nigerian heritage. Almost half the population of Nigeria associates as being Muslim while Joshua himself has said he was raised Christian. I tell you this to illustrate Joshua’s multi faceted cultural heritage. He isn’t bound by a single country or religion, only to the sport to which he owes so much. With that in mind, surely its only fair to him to judge him on his exploits in the ring and as a role model out of it. On both of these fronts he has only ever been a consummate professional. His closet appears free from any damaging skeletons and he continually preaches the virtues of dedication, hard work and perseverance, qualities we all recognise as being wholly admirable. Yet one photo is all it has taken for some fans to turn their backs on him. This isn’t a photograph in which we see Joshua trying his hardest to sell an ideology he accepts as his own. Its the photograph of an athlete showing respect to the customs of a country in which he is holidaying, demonstrating not only tolerance but also an appreciation of beliefs that might not even line up with his own. Its not as if he’s come out and said something as racially charged as “All Jews and gentiles are devils”, because believe it or not those are the words of a very angry and unrecognisably racist Muhammed Ali. As unbelievable now as they are undeniable, they were spoken during a period in which he had joined The Nation of Islam a time when Ali had gone even further so as to suggest the complete separation of whites from blacks. I tell you this not to pour cold water on the legacy of our greatest sporting icon. I do it only to illustrate how as human beings we exists as very complicated beasts. Often so primitive in our way of thinking, so quick to revert back to the tribalism that defined us from our early origins as a species. Yet so too are we capable of great things. Of uniting and working together. We are capable of compassion of the highest order and with it, acceptance. Later in life Ali said “The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life” addressing his once radical positions on race. “religion and spirituality are very different, but people often confuse the two. Spirituality is recognising the divine light that is within us all. It doesn’t belong to any particular religion;it belongs to everyone. We all have the same God, we just serve him differently…it doesn’t matter weather you’re a Muslim, a Christian or a Jew. When you believe in God, you should believe that all people are part of one family.”
Words that some of Joshua’s latest detractors should perhaps take heed of.