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What separates giants like Maradona or Mohammad Ali from other sports icons

Diego Maradona
By Vidya Bhushan Rawat*
A portrait size painting of Diego Maradona was on display at certain ruins in war torn Syria where people were mourning the death of the legend. In the entire Latin American world, people are pouring their respect to Maradona who died in Buenos Aires, the Argentine Capital where his dead body was kept at the presidential palace as people flocked in to pay their last respect to the legend. The Argentine President declared a three day moaning. Tributes poured in the world over whether it is nations or sports federations or political activists who Maradona supported through their causes.
On his passing away, we need to ponder this question as what separates giants like Diego Maradona or Mohammad Ali from rest of the sports icons who might have been hugely successful financially but the grief and outpouring of their passing away will never be the same. Of course, we know, in our own country, there are cricketers who we worship but except for endorsing commercial brands and that too for their own purposes, they remain quiet. Most of the film stars and sports persons who join politics rarely take a stand except the official lines of their ‘parties’. Many of these worthies who become members of parliament, don’t even attend the parliament.
So in such a scenario, we look at the outpouring of grief world over for the passing away of Maradona who definitely was an extraordinary player but there are many and it is not that he won Argentina many world cup. That glory is for the year 1986.
In the Western World, Maradona was a ‘cheater’ and he fell from grace in the cases of ‘drug addiction’ where he was denied admission in the hospital in his own country and it was Cuba which gave him shelter and brought him back to life after deep depression. Latin America has been hugely influenced by revolutionary Fidel Castro, the leader who built Cuba a great nation, a model for all the smaller countries to follow. Again, the same ‘liberal’ ‘independent’ western media would often call Castro a mafia of Miami. For Maradona, the 1986 World Cup victory against England was far more satisfying because the way Britain used its power to control Falkland Island which Argentina claimed as their territory and British took it by their force.
Maradona’s political thoughts made him far superior to other players who rarely spoke. That makes him a superhero in the company of Mohammad Ali, who never let his stardom forget his community and the racial crimes that the Blacks in the United States have faced. It is not that persons from the marginalised background don’t reach the heights but soon the establishment capture them and use their successes as the success of ‘their model’. Most of these icons become part of the commercial interest which serves the power elite of the world. That is why, I say, the work done by Maradona or Mohammad Ali remain far powerful and world over people remember them for the cause they fought for.
Muhammad Ali
Maradona used to call Fidel Castro his ‘second father’. On Castro’s death, it is reported, Maradona wept uncontrollably. We need to understand what are these qualities in these legends which set them apart. Fidel Castro was a treat to listen and read. A man of bigger ideas who could stand up to a mighty American empire that wanted to swallow the tiny nation of Cuba. Despite western world’s vilification, Fidel Castro not only influenced the culture and politics of Cuba but other nations. The way Cuba helped other countries and gave them self respect was unprecedented. Che Guevara was an Argentine international who along with Fidel Castro became iconic among all those nations victims of colonialism. Definitely, a person like Diego Maradona would not have grown up in his country without listening to the folklores of the political legends.
When Maradona was recuperating in Cuba, it is said that Fidel Castro would invite him for a morning walk and discuss various political issues. Later, Maradona organised a talk show and interviewed Fidel Castro. That political understanding made Maradona a believer in socialism and secularism. He decried the Vatican and pope once upon a time. He was aware how neoliberalism was a process of recolonisation of the poorer nations and therefore stood with all the leaders of the Latin American countries who were resisting the American interventions in their countries. Whether it was Evan Moralis of Bolivia or Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, the legend of Football, always stood with their cause.
Maradona never forgot his roots and he realised that even when he got stardom, it is time, this stardom is used to spread the political ideology which he felt would bring true socialism and restore rights to the people. This feeling of International solidarity made him speak in support of the cause Palestine. ‘ I am a Palestinian by heart’, he said once and wanted to even coach their football team.
This internationalism took Che Guevara to various parts of the world to make people aware of their rights and inspire the young minds to work for the betterment of the world. And this was visible in Diego Maradona when he could stand with Evan Morales and Hugo Chavez to condemn George Bush’s effort to bully Venezuela.
And yes, he was not ‘contesting’ elections as happens in our part of the world. A sports star will keep quiet on important public issues and when want to join a political party will speak about ‘issues’ and keep quiet. That is why Mohammad Ali remains a legend as he never succumbed to this publicity of the capitalist media. He remain grounded to his identity and the discrimination done to it by the system of white supremacy. The same was true about Maradona. Fortunately, Maradona’s political thoughts matured with guidance and advice of Fidel Castro and he became an internationalist.
Life of Maradona as well as Mohammad Ali shows us that sports icons can use their superstardom to encourage and promote progressive ideas and fight against injustices. They can be true heros of humanity if they use their stardom for undoing historic wrongs and raising uncomfortable questions. Unlike the new found love of ‘charity’ that the ‘stars’ do and promote their stardom, taking a political stand on important issues that impact us, remain the most important and it is here both Maradona and Mohammad Ali have left their contemporaries far behind.
Maradona will be remembered not merely for his golden goals but also for uncompromising stand against colonialism and exploitation by the mighty powers of the world. Hope sports icons will learn a few things from you that merely earning huge money will not make their lives worth remembering but standing for a cause makes you different from them. Every condolence and outpouring of grief that is coming from different parts of the world is an indication that not all of them would have known your sports skills, a large number of people are pained because they know an international hero is gone, who stood with the rights of the oppressed.
Salute to Diego Maradona.
---
*Human rights defender

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