We need sport more than ever right now. We need it to distract, to entertain, to lift our mood and help us through these troubled times. Sport is our escape, it can take us to a different place. And who doesn’t want to be in a different place right now? We need our sport stars to step up too, and show us why we believe in them so much. They are role models more than ever right now.
So here’s a message to those Premier League footballers flouting Covid rules that we’ve all been forced to follow, be more Anthony Joshua, lads. In the last month alone the 31-year-old WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO world heavyweight champion has shown true leadership, class and selflessness, all in between a destructive knockout win against Bulgarian warrior Kubrat Pulev. Let’s start with true leadership.
When AJ was asked if he’d take the knee in the ring before his fight with Pulev this was his response to the gathered media, “Good question. No, I won’t take the knee. I’m trying to do more tangible things. What we’re trying to do is create a union to support British culture. That’s important – to showcase people from the Afro-Caribbean community as valuable members of British society. I think that’s more important. That’s what we’re working on at the minute. Different athletes, different people, different places. So taking a knee is important – 100 per cent. But, personally, I’m doing something different.”
Joshua said that work had already begun, “I’ve employed someone who is actually working on it. It’s a difficult task but hopefully it comes to fruition and it’s really only to do positive things in the Great British environment. There are sometimes issues with stigma and stereotypes. So it’s to showcase NHS workers, architects, athletes and be positive for everyone in the community. We’ve created a deck, a website, and we’re doing foundational things with grassroots charities.”
The announcement came six months after he spoke passionately at a Black Lives Matter protest in his hometown of Watford, telling crowds, “The virus has been declared a pandemic. This is out of control. And I’m not talking about Covid-19. The virus I’m talking about is called racism. We stand united against a virus which has been instrumental in taking lives of the young, old, rich, poor; a virus which is unapologetic and spreads across all sectors.” Leading from the front, legend.
And then there’s class. In the run-up to the Pulev fight AJ was asked if he’d consider facing Tyson Fury for less money, to ensure it could be held in the UK. He replied, “Yeah, why not? I’m now fighting Pulev for a massive pay cut. Matchroom are taking pay cuts this year because we have to keep the sport alive. We are all doing our part at the minute so I wouldn’t mind doing it again. It’s not harming me, and it’s for a bigger cause as well. It’s a big fight, but the main objective is how do we get Fury in the ring?
“The main objective is getting this fight done, but there is definitely the element that the fans are the most important and getting them together to watch a British classic. What finances can we gather to get Fury in the ring? It’s a tough one but I would definitely go for the fans this time around.” Boxing ain't about the money… do you hear that, Floyd Mayweather?!
And finally, Joshua showed his true selflessness just before Christmas when he announced he was giving a substantial donation to help keep the amateur game alive. Boxing was snubbed by the Government when it announced a £300m bailout plan to help grassroots sport fight the impact of Covid-19. So up stepped AJ, digging deep for the greater good.
He was a bricklayer with a growing criminal record before trainer Sean Murphy at Finchley ABC got him straight and set him on the path to greatness. This was payback time, as AJ said, “Boxing helped shape me, both physically and mentally. It is no secret that without boxing and the family created around my amateur gym, my life could have been very different. The sport has given me a lot and I want to help highlight the issues affecting grassroots clubs and do what I can to keep the lights on for those most in need.”
With leadership, class and selflessness, AJ is the sports star we all need in our lives right now.