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Muhammad Ali dead: President Barack Obama pays tribute to boxer who 'shook up the world'

'He stood with King and Mandela, stood up when it was hard, spoke out when others wouldn't', Obama says

Muhammad Ali onstage during  his Celebrity Fight Night XVIII on March 24, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona.
Muhammad Ali onstage during his Celebrity Fight Night XVIII on March 24, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona.

President Barack Obama has paid tribute to Muhammad Ali who has died at the age of 74.

The celebrated boxer and social justice campaigner passed away after being admitted to hospital with a respiratory condition earlier this week. He had experienced Parkinson’s disease for almost 30 years.

Tributes have poured in from the boxing and entertainment world as well as the world of politics. Now, President Obama and the First Lady, Michelle Obama, have paid tribute through a statement crediting him with having “shook up the world”,

Obama is a longtime fan of the boxing legend and said he keeps a pair of Ali’s gloves in his study at the Oval Office underneath the iconic photo of him standing over Sonny Liston after his win.

Obama hailed Ali for always having “fought for what was right” and referred to when he opposed being conscripted to fight in the Vietnam war which resulted in a conviction and the revoking of his heavyweight title. His conviction was overturned in 1971 and he made a triumphant return to boxing a year earlier.

“He stood with King and Mandela, stood up when it was hard, spoke out when others wouldn’t," Obama said. "His fight outside the ring would cost him his title and public standing. It would earn him enemies on the left and the right, make him reviled and nearly send him to jail. But Ali stood his ground. And his victory helped us get used to the America we recognise today.”

Obama says while Ali “wasn’t perfect”, “his wonderful, infectious, even innocent spirit ultimately won him more fans than foes”.

The president also touched on Ali’s illness with Parkinson’s disease, which he had fought since 1984, saying that in spite of his physical health ailing he continued to be a positive presence through his activism.

“Later, as his physical powers ebbed, he became an even more powerful force for peace and reconciliation around the world. We saw a man who said he was so mean he’d make medicine sick reveal a soft spot, visit children with illness and disability around the world, telling them they, too, could become the greatest. We watched a hero light a torch, and fight his greatest fight of all time on the world stage once again, a battle against the disease that ravaged his body, but couldn’t take the spark from his eyes.”

The president’s statement ending by concluding: “Muhammad Ali shook up the world. And the world is better for it. We are all better for it.”

Ali and Obama met on several occasions and the boxer was present when the first Black president was sworn in during his 2009 inauguration . In 2010, Obama penned an essay to mark Ali’s 50-years on the world stage where he praised him for never stopping “using his celebrity for good”.

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