Driven out by racists?

A vocal minority of bigots are responsible for Amir Khan’s decision to move to the US

By John Wight

Morning Star, 20 January 2010

Good luck to Amir Khan with his decision to sign with Golden Boy and re-focus his career in the United States from now on. There are undoubtedly many reasons for the young Bolton fighter’s decision, but money surely isn’t one of them – not for a young man who’s already made more than enough in his short career thus far.

Nor will it be because he’s been unhappy with his relationship with Frank Warren, the man responsible for shepherding his pro career since he returned to Britain with an Olympic silver medal from the games in Athens back in 2004. Indeed, he deserves much credit for bringing Khan on the way he has, especially after his one defeat at the hands of Breidis Prescott in 2008.

After such a devastating KO Khan’s confidence would inevitably have been shaken and lesser promoters might have struggled to coax him through the inevitable months of depression and doubts which followed. That Khan has bounced back from that low point in such convincing style is in no small way a credit to Warren, who never for a second lost belief in his protege, even when the knives were out among the British boxing literati. That said, lest people start to get the impression that Warren is running a Christian charity, his relationship with Khan has earned him a pretty penny over the years, which should help to sweeten the bitter pill of losing him to pastures new.

In a pure boxing sense the timing of this move could not be better. Since decamping to LA to train under Freddie Roach, Khan has embraced both Freddie’s training regimen and the southern Californian lifestyle, where year-round sunshine sits in stark contrast to the British winter weather which this year has been bad enough to make the South Pole seem like a better alternative. Gone are early winter mornings trussed up in three layers in order to venture out for roadwork, having to summon up every ounce of determination in order to do so without questioning your sanity.

There’s also the mouth-watering prospect of being matched against and beating the sport’s elite, winning the respect of what remains the most educated and sophisticated boxing public there is at the same time. Khan’s incredible speed and rate of improvement under Roach put both of the aforementioned well within his grasp over the next few years and it will be interestesing to see how his career progresses as a result.

However, we should not fall into the trap of fooling ourselves that boxing is the only reason for Khan’s decision to cut his ties with Britain. In fact, there is reason to believe that boxing isn’t the main reason. Regardless of those who think otherwise, the world of sport does not exist in isolation from the world around it and in Britain anti-Muslim racism has poisoned society to the point where it’s impossible to pick up a newspaper or watch the TV news without a negative stereotype of Muslims or Islam staring back at you.

Khan, the highest-profile Muslim sportsman in the country, has heard the boos at his fights over the years, not to mention noticed the glee with which many welcomed his one and only defeat as a pro thus far, and knew in his heart that much of it was motivated by good old-fashioned racism. In a country where it used to be customary to refer to every person with dark skin as a Paki, many reading this will be entitled to question if much has changed in British society when it comes to the common perception of Asians living in the country.

Well, with two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a so-called war on terror currently being waged, to be an Asian in Britain today is to feel marked out as the enemy within. And Khan, quite rightly the pride of Britain’s Asian community, sadly but almost inevitably has been the target of much of the accumulated fear and ignorance that exists among a significant section of the British public for the reasons described.

The fact is that Khan has never conducted himself in public with anything less than integrity and professionalism, making himself readily available for interviews and never less than courteous and polite when conducting them.

He could well have afforded himself the opportunity of the platform which fame has brought him to air some political views, to turn himself into a spokesman for his people, speaking out against the war and the Islamophobia that is now common currency in the country of his birth. But this is a young man who knows his limitations, knows that a young Ali he is not, and who sees his purpose in life at this point in time exclusively tied to what takes place inside the ring.

This approach has no doubt been the advice given by those around him, including and especially Warren, a man whom you cannot help but feel views politics as a minefield best avoided when it comes to the business of selling tickets and pay-per-view hits.

Ultimately, the ills of society find their reflection in the world of sport, where people live their unfulfilled dreams vicariously through the victories of their heroes, as well as vent their frustrations and prejudices against those whom they identify as the enemy. Sport, some say, is a metaphor for war, with boxing especially providing an excuse to indulge primal instincts which centuries of civilisation, not to mention the courts, have taught us to avoid and suppress.

For too long, Asians in Britain have been regarded as second-class citizens, verbally abused, their customs and religious beliefs derided and disdained. But a new generation has emerged of young Asian men and women who are proud, unapologetic and who do not ask but demand to be treated with dignity and respect. In deciding to move his career stateside, Khan has just served notice that he refuses to be judged by the colour of his skin or his religious beliefs in his country of birth any longer.