IMRAN GASHKORI | Sports Journalist | [email protected]
It was a shock discovery for the 79-year old self-confessed “sports nut” Alan Starkey over the weekend, during an annual family brunch celebrating his wife Irene’s 75th Birthday.
A heated discussion around the dining room table at Mr Starkey’s South Betoota residence on Sunday morning resulted in the former boxer and junior Rugby League coach learning that his top four favourite athletes of all time were in fact, Muslims.
“[My grandson] Arty is just like me… he loves sport more than anything else in this world. I thought I knew everything there was to know… turns out I’m more of a stat-man, because when Alan told me that [Former Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs captain] Hazem El Masri was a Muslim – I thought he was being funny,” says a shocked Mr Starkey.
“Turns out El Magic isn’t the only one. Sonny Bill Williams, Iron Mike Tyson…. MUHAMMAD ALI! If Arthur didn’t have that google thing on his phone – I would have bet otherwise… It’s a real shock”
Mr Starkey has stated that while he “still harbours hostile feelings towards Muslims” – he is now very willing to spend more time understanding the people and their faith.
“Sport means more to me than anything else. I was a young bloke when Ali was The Greatest and I followed Mike Tyson’s career from day dot… I can’t believe I didn’t know about them – I’ve read both their autobiographies several times. I guess I must just tune out when reading about all their personal stuff,”
Mr Starkey has also stated that he believes the same athletes he has worshipped over the years are shining beacons for a religion that has been so marginalised by mainstream media,
“Tyson, didn’t he used to be a bad little pr*ck… I’ve looked him up again and it seems he has been squeaky clean since converting to Islam. The same with Sonny Bill Williams, his behaviour, career and public profile improved dramatically after he began practicing. It’s very impressive,”
While the Starkey family find the former concreter’s new-found respect for minorities as quite refreshing, it isn’t the first time this has happened – Starkey explains that once upon a time, he was also quite racist towards Aboriginal people – that was, until witnessing the Brisbane Broncos win four NRL premierships off the back of Steve Renouf.
“Mate, I was just like any old racist before I saw Renouf play. ‘The Black Pearl’ we called him… I’ve never seen anything as magical as that man moving downfield with a football.”
“Christ Almighty. Or should I say praise Allah… I just love the way sport has opened my eyes to an amazingly diverse world around me.”