Amir Khan’s hopes of a multi-million dollar showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jnr could be KOd by an anti-Islamic backlash following terrorist atrocities.
The former world light-welterweight champion from Bolton is said to be high on Mayweather’s to-be-hit list but boxing sources in the United States have told the Independent on Sunday that they sense a growing reluctance to promote a Muslim boxer, even though 27-year-old Khan has consistently condemned the outrages perpetrated in the name of his faith.
“Any Muslim fighter would be a hard sell to TV audiences in such a high-profile fight, especially should the situation escalate,” says one leading promoter.”There is so much Islamophobia around here following the hostage killings that it might be considered too great a risk.”
Khan, who watched Mayweather defeat Marcos Maidana in Las Vegas last week, has remained in the US to prepare for a proposed contest against an unspecified opponent in December.
He says he is unaware of any antipathy towards him because of his religious beliefs, although he has had several problems with US immigration authorities.
Three years ago Khan was invited to a White House dinner with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the only British guest among a group of prominent Muslim sports personalities at an occasion ostensibly to mark the end of Ramadan. Significantly it coincided with the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
America has not always been so welcoming to Khan, who claims he is forced to endure rude treatment and extensive security checks almost every time he travels to the US simply because he is Muslim.
Four months before the White House dinner he had been detained by immigration authorities in Los Angeles after a flight from London. He later wrote on Twitter: “Landed in LA safe, but the customs took the **** again because I’m Muslim. Kept me in some holding room for over two hours. They were so arrogant and unprofessional.”
In May 2010, he had to train in Canada after being refused entry to the US because of delays in issuing a work visa, and even last week he was initially refused clearance at Manchester airport to board a plane to Las Vegas to watch the Mayweather fight. It took a call to the US Embassy from Downing Street before clearance was given.
Asif Vali, Khan’s former business manager, says that the legacy of terrorism is a major factor in causing problems at immigration control.
“His name is Khan; he is a Muslim; between visits to the United States, he visits Pakistan; and goes to another Muslim country, Egypt, on holiday. All these things are taken into account by US Homeland Security.”
Amir’s father, Khan, is disappointed at any suggestion that the family’s faith might damage the prospects of a big-money fight. He said: ”We have heard nothing of this nature and I certainly hope it is not the case. It would be very unfair because Amir has always done his utmost to harmonise relationships between communities and his views as a Muslim are the opposite to any extremist elements. He has always been popular in the United States.”
Khan has also had problems with racist elements in the UK because of his Pakistani heritage. He was booed when introduced at the Froch-Groves fight at Wembley in May. There has been similar reaction in other ringside appearances and he is a regular target on social media.
He admits that the racist abuse on internet forums hurts because “I’m proud to be British.”
He adds: “I went to the Olympic Games for Britain when I could have chosen to go for Pakistan. I respect other religions and other cultures.
“I was only a kid of 14 when 9/11 happened but I was as shocked and appalled as anyone that day, as I was with the London bombings in 2005, which I condemned at the time, as I do the recent appalling atrocities.”
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