EMMA Lifetime Achievement Award 1999
Muhammad Ali transformed boxing with his physical prowess, social commentary and poetic rhymes, becoming the world's most adored athlete in the process. Muhammad Ali has undoubtedly been a fixture in world culture since the 1960's.
Dubbed the ‘Athlete of the Century’ by GQ magazine, Ali brought unprecedented speed and grace to his sport, while his charm and wit forever changed our expectations of what we expect a champion to be. His accomplishments in the ring were the stuff legends are made of: two fights with Sonny Liston, where he proclaimed himself ‘The Greatest’ and proved that he was; three epic wars with Joe Frazier; the stunning victory over George Foreman in Zaire; and dethroning Leon Spinks to become the heavyweight champion for an unprecedented third time. Nonetheless, there was always far more to Ali than what took place in the ring.
Ali’s life and career have been played out as much on the front page as on the sports page. His early embrace of the Nation of Islam -- and his insistence on being called Muhammad Ali instead of his ‘slave name,’ Cassius Clay -- heralded a new era in Black pride. His refusal to be inducted into the United States Army anticipated the growing anti-war movement of the 1960’s. His willingness to stage his fights in such far flung locales as Kinshasa, Manila and Kuala Lumpur signalled a growing awareness of the developing world and were highlights of a career that earned Ali the status of world icon.
Never has a sports figure inspired so many people in so many different ways. Ali has shown that a sport can be more than entertainment; it can also be a cultural event with the power to change social values. Today, championing the causes of the developing world has become a major focus of Muhammad Ali’s life. Through Global Village and philanthropic groups, Muhammad Ali has been instrumental in providing 22 million meals to the world’s hungry.
For his tremendous humanitarian efforts, Muhammad Ali has been the recipient of countless awards. In addition to being honoured by Amnesty International with their Lifetime Achievement Award, the Secretary-General of the United Nations bestowed Muhammad with a citation as United Nations Messenger of Peace. Muhammad Ali has also been named an International Ambassador of Jubilee 2000. Other recent honours include an Essence Award, an XNBA Human Spirit Award and recognition from the National Urban League, 100 Black Men, Givat Flaviva, the Oleander Foundation, the National Conference of Christians and Jews, Time Magazine, and former President Jimmy Carter, who cited Muhammad as ‘Mr. International Friendship’.
Muhammad Ali may be out of the ring but the interest in him has not died, as was proven when 3 billion television viewers around the world watched him open the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. In 1984, Ali was stricken with Parkinson's disease. However, true to form, Ali hasn't let his illness stop him from being free to do what he wants.
He is still the most recognised man on earth. Thirty-nine years after bursting upon the scene as a gold medal winner at the Rome Olympics, Muhammad Ali remains a magical figure, known and loved throughout the world.
Whether teaching tolerance and understanding, feeding the hungry, following the tenets of his religion, or reaching out to children in need, Muhammad Ali is devoted to making the world a better place for all people. No athlete has ever contributed more to the life of his country or the world than Muhammad Ali.