Boxing: A change is coming as Haye dreams of world domination

Obama and Hamilton can inspire Briton to heavyweight glory. By Alan Hubbard
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It has been quite a week for mixed-race winners. The respective triumphs of Barack Obama and Lewis Hamilton have had a special resonance deep in a corner of northern Cyprus, where the British boxer David Haye is nurturing his own dream of world domination. Obama's victory, he says, had him punching the air instead of his sparring partners, while he finds Hamilton equally inspirational.

"As a mixed-race lad myself I admire what Lewis has done for sport and I'd like to follow him as an icon," Haye says. "The fact that someone like Lewis can go out and achieve his goal should be a message to all kids, whether they are black, white, Asian or whatever. And as Obama showed, the opportunity is there for anyone to do anything in life if you have the hunger and stay on the right path."

Haye's father is from Jamaica, his mother is a white Londoner. "Being of mixed race gives you a great under-standing of both cultures," he says. "They always said to me from day dot I can do anything I wanted and I said, 'Right, I want to be world champion', and they've done everything they could to get me where I am."

Unlike Hamilton, he says he has rarely encountered racial prejudice. "At least not since I was a schoolkid, and even then never serious. I got a little stick occasionally until I was around 10 or 11, growing up in Bermondsey as a member of a racial minority, but as the schools became more and more mixed this disappeared. It might have helped that I was a big lad who knew how to use his fists, so nobody was going to take liberties. And boxing is one of those sports where racism has never reallybeen a problem. I suppose F1 is different, more white-collar, and there might be some resentment that Lewis has broken down a few barriers. But you can bet they'll embrace him now."

Like Hamilton, Haye opts to live abroad, though his residence in the Turkish Cypriot village of Kyrenia has more to do with training than taxes. It is in a new gymnasium up a dusty road behind the local ironworks that the former cruiserweight champion has been preparing for his ascent towards the world heavyweight championship. He puts his foot on the first rung of the ladder against the American Monte Barrett, 37, an upmarket journeyman who claims he beats up prospects for a living, at London's 02 on Saturday.

Another reason for Haye's domicile in Cyprus is that it is where he wishes to bring up his seven-month-old son, Cassius (Cassius Haye, now there's a name for a prospective heavyweight). "We live well here, the climate is fantastic, the organic food is great, life is healthy – and safe."

Which brings him back to south London, and the street crime from which he wishes to protect his son. "What is happening in parts of London is crazy, a worry for any parents bringing up kids. It's a violent place. You want to know that if your kids go to school and get in an argument, they are not going to get stabbed or shot. Something has to happen."

After this fight, Haye plans to meet Boris Johnson to offer his help in the London mayor's anti-youth crime campaign. "I'd like to see a network of gyms established to take kids off the streets. Far better to focus on something like boxing or martial arts than killing. People say boxing is dangerous, but where does that leave peoplestabbing each other? Boxing took me away from that world, and it can for these kids. Loads of kids I knew have gone down the wrong road. Some are dead, some in prison. I'm determined that's not going to happen to my son."

In his best Obama-style rhetoric, the 27-year-old Hayemaker tells us that change is coming in the world – and heavyweight boxing – but he admits the credit crunch means that the 20,000-seater O2 is unlikely to show the "house full" signs it did when he took five minutes to blast out Enzo Maccarinelli in March. Conscious of the late-night travelling difficulties from the arena – he had to walk back to Bermondsey after the Maccarinellifight – he promises a similarly quick exit on Saturday, "so people can jump on the tube and go home happy".

Haye v Barrett will be shown live on Setanta Sports 1. O2 box office: 0844 856 0202

Century of mixed blessings

Since 1909, when Walter Tull, son of a Barbadian father and English mother, became the first black First Division footballer with Tottenham, to Lewis Hamilton, the world F1 champion, British sport has been enriched by mixed-race personalities, including England captains at football and cricket. Among them: Boxing: Middleweight Randolph Turpin, who beat Sugar Ray Robinson in 1951, light-heavyweight John Conteh and Olympic middleweight champ James DeGale, whose mother is English and father has French West Indian ancestry.

Athletics: Decathlete Daley Thompson (born Francis Morgan Oyodélé Thompson of a Nigerian father and Scottish mother) and the double Olympic track gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes.

Cricket: Basil D'Oliveira, the Cape Coloured whose selection for England in the 1960s was a watershed in the boycott of South Africa, and the former England captain Nasser Hussain, born in Madras of an Indian father and English mother.

Football: England's Rio Ferdinand, Theo Walcott and David James.

Gymnastics: Louis Smith, Beijing bronze medallist.

Cycling: Shanaze Reade, world BMX champion.