AFP
4 minute read
15 Dec 2016
11:23 am

These sporting giants said goodbye this year

AFP

From the greatest heavyweight in history to the man who bagged the most Golf majors, 2016 was a year in which world sport parted ways with true legends.

Goodbye, champ. Muhammad Al. Photo: Kent Gavin/Keystone/Getty Images.

These are the notable sporting deaths of 2016.

Muhammad Ali

‘Ali shook up the world – and the world is better for it’ – so said US President Barack Obama about Muhammad Ali, one of the iconic sporting heroes of the 20th century who died aged 74 after a long battle against Parkinson’s Disease on June 3.

Ali’s fame transcended sport, celebrated as much for his three world heavyweight titles as for his fight outside the ring.

His refusal to serve in Vietnam earned him prosecution for draft evasion.

Vilified in some quarters for that and his earlier conversion to Islam, when he dropped his name Cassius Clay, he later earned accolades as a civil rights activist.

Ali’s career from 1960 to 1981 saw him retire with a record of 56-5, including such historic bouts as the Rumble in the Jungle against George Foreman who said: “Ali brought out something called greatness in everyone.”

Married four times he was survived by seven daughters and two sons.

Thousands turned out in his hometown of Louisville to bid farewell where he was eulogised by former US president Bill Clinton as “a universal soldier for our common humanity”.

Arnold Palmer

Charismatic golfing god with the common touch, died on September 26 aged 87.

Born in Latrobe Pennsylvania, ‘the King’ won seven majors among his 95 titles in a storied career spanning more than six decades that redefined his sport.

His go-for-broke style, raw athleticism and unorthodox swing enthralled fans, and he became one of golf’s first television superstars, helping make the sport accessible to a much wider audience.

“Let’s be honest, it’s kind of a nerdy sport, Arnold Palmer made golf sexy.” said Australia’s Jason Day.

The son of his local club’s golf professional, he began caddying at 11, turned pro in 1954.

He was the first player to win more than $100,000 a season.

In a sign of how he helped transform his sport, Dicky Pride earned that sum coming in a lowly 246th in this year’s PGA earnings list topped by Dustin Johnson with a $9.4 million haul.

Palmer played on six Ryder Cup teams and was the winning captain twice.

Carlos Alberto

Captain of Brazil’s 1970 World Cup-winning side, died on September 26 aged 72.

The right-back starred alongside Pele, Tostao, Jairzinho and Rivelino in the legendary Brazil team that beat Italy 4-1 in the final.

He scored one of the best World Cup goals in the Mexico City final, running onto a Pele pass and smashing in a thunderous right-footed shot.

Born in Rio in 1944 “Capitao” played alongside Pele at Santos from 1966 to 1974 and at the New York Cosmos from 1977 to 1980 after beginning his career with Fluminense.

He won more than 50 caps – missing the ill-fated 1974 World Cup trophy defence due to injury – and was named by FIFA in a list of the 100 greatest living players in 2004.

Brazil’s 2002 World Cup winner Ronaldinho said on his passing: “Rest in peace eternal captain.”

Johann Cruyff

Football lost one of its master practitioners in March with the death aged 68 from cancer of the Dutch legend who epitomised the all-out attack Total Football system.

Cruyff won three European Cups as a player with Ajax and Ballon d’Or titles in 1971 with Ajax and 1973 and 1974 with Barcelona, where he starred from 1973 to 1978.

As a coach, Cruyff led Barcelona to their first European Cup title in 1992.

A one-time heavy smoker, Cruyff revealed in October last year that he had lung cancer. Cruyff was one of the all-time greats alongside Pele of Brazil, Diego Maradona of Argentina, France’s Michel Platini and Lionel Messi of Argentina, Barcelona’s current leader.

“He was the best player of all time,” Platini told AFP.

His heavy smoking was blamed for heart bypass surgery in 1991 and he started sucking lollipops on the touchline at Barcelona games.

“Football has given me everything in life, tobacco almost took it all away” he said in a Catalan health department advert at the time.

Joao Havelange

Brazil’s corruption-tainted former FIFA president who turned football’s ruling body into a global business behemoth and helped bring the Olympics to Rio, died during the Games on August 16 three months and eight days after his 100th birthday.

He represented Brazil in swimming at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin and again in Helsinki in 1952 at water polo.

But his real calling was in management, becoming FIFA boss in 1974.

Under his stewardship the World Cup expanded from 16-nations to a planet wide 32-team sporting festival.

“I did not become president of FIFA just to watch good football and applaud,” Havelange said before making way for Sepp Blatter in 1998.

Havelange, who neither drank nor smoked, had a spectacular fall from grace.

Amid swirling allegations of corruption he resigned from the IOC in 2011.

Two years later he stood down as honorary president of FIFA after confirmation he had taken bribes.

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