Wednesday, June 08, 2005


A Legend In Two Sports

Anthony "Choc" Mundine is one of Australia's sporting legends. He comes from a family of sportsmen and activists. Anthony started out as a champion player of the Australian football code known as "Rugby League". He played for a prominent Sydney team known as the 'St George Dragons'.

Anthony is also an Aboriginal Australian. He is fiercely proud of his indigenous heritage. In indigenous circles, Anthony is looked upon as an example for youth from this enormously disadvantaged community.

Some years back, whilst still playing at St George, Anthony met a die-hard St George supporter. Khoder Nasser comes from a Lebanese Muslim family who have lived in Australia for generations. His father was a former president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, a peak national Muslim community body.

I first met Khoder in 1985 at a Muslim youth camp organised by the Federation. Khoder was always a loud and loutish sort of guy. He had a passion for the St George Rugly League team and for the British rock band Queen. Khoder had memorised the names of all St George players and the lyrics of just about every Queen song.

Khoder also had a passion for Islam. He read the Autobiography of Malcolm X at least 10 times. He was also a huge fan of boxing legend Muhammad Ali.

As Khoder and Choc became close friends, the topic of religion inevitably entered their conversations. Khoder introuced Choc to Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. The boxing background of Choc's own family must have attracted him to the legendary Cassius Clay. His passion for black rights must have endeared him to the activism and confidence of Malek Shahbazz.

Choc made a decision. He wanted to be a Muslim. He proclaimed his shahada at the Imam Ali Ben Abi Taleb Mosque at Lakemba in south western Sydney. It happened all of a sudden. Even Khoder was taken by surprise.

Since then, it has been a roller coaster ride. Both Mundine and Nasser have big mouths and are not afraid to use them - much to their detriment.

I was never a huge fan of Mundine after his comments on the September 11 terrorist attacks. I thought he had been hanging around with the South Hurstville Salafites for too long. his rhetoric was becoming dangerous.

But then one night I saw him fight. And since then, I have become a choc-a-holic. Reproduced below is an article I wrote after watching Mundine fight on the evening of 8 June 2005 ...

The Night I Became A Choc-a-holic

It was 8:30pm. I had decided to call it a night early after a long day of reading about other people’s legal problems. I had hardly closed my eyes when the blasted mobile rang.

“Get your ass down here! Choc’s fighting, and my brother can’t make it tonight.”

The voice was unmistakable. My friend Carter is perhaps the only Bankstown “Leb” who plays cricket. He prides himself on being skippier than the skips. But when Choc fights, Carter becomes a “brudder”.

And tonight he was determined to drag me out of my comfortable bed to watch someone I hardly had much enthusiasm for.

Anthony Mundine was a superb footballer, even if he played for the wrong team (sorry, I’m a Bulldogs supporter). But after he switched to boxing, I lost interest. Boxing is not a sport for Sensitive New-Age Industrial Lawyers (SNAILs).

I read Mundine’s sad attempt at an autobiography. I could see why it did not win him the Nobel prize for literature.

Mundine’s verbal antics also made me a bit sceptical. I’ve known Mundine’s manager (Abdullah Khoder) for over 20 years. We first met at a Muslim youth camp. “Abs” (as we like to call him) was always a bit over-the-top. Sadly, his heart of gold was often badly disguised by loud ranting.

So as I waited for the NRMA man to heat up my car, I made sure I packed my iPod. I was prepared for what I thought would be a boring night. And as I waited for Carter to bring my ticket, I saw police cars everywhere. They had their eyes firmly fixed on me.

Why me? OK, so I have tanned skin. But that has more to do with watching too many Bollywood movies and eating too many potato-filled samosas as a child. Why stare at me for?

I peered through the windows and could see people of all shades and colours running up stairs and into doors. Carter arrived and forced me to run up 2 flights of stairs with him. As I entered the packed hall, it was clear that this was not a hall ready to cheer for Mary Donaldson’s adopted country.

I had my iPod ready, and tuned it to AC/DC. As my ears were shaking all night long, I saw The Man himself floating like a butterfly across the ring. Opposite him was Mikkel Kessler, WBA super-middleweight champion.

Mundine (or “Choc”, as his family affectionately nicknamed him as a tribute to his childhood passion for chocolate) may have been floating like a butterfly, but he did not quite have the sting of a bee. By the first 4 rounds, it seemed this would be easy for Kessler.

My iPod then moved my ears onto the Baby Animals. Listening to hard rock in a crowd of thousands screaming at a boxing match has a strangely surreal feeling.

“mundine’s goin down”, I SMSed by my cousin. Like me, she’s not a huge fan of Choc. And like most nurses, she is no fan of boxing.

I must have jumped the gun because I suddenly could only see the backs of people’s heads. I switched off the iPod and stood up to see Choc giving Kessler the worst bee-stings he has probably had for years.

And it was at that moment that the entire crowd could see Choc’s huge heart placing itself at the heart of the fight. This was cardiac boxing at its best. Before long, I joined the chorus of “Go Choc! Go Choc!”.

I looked around and saw an enormously mixed crowd. This wasn’t a Country Road affair like the Rugby World Cup final. This was a night for all races and classes and sizes and nationalities.

Choc continued to fight hard. Someone sitting near me mentioned Choc’s wobbly legs. My eyes were firmly fixed on Choc’s fists and arms which had not a sign of wobble.

Choc fought to the bitter end. We cheered for him. Out of nowhere arose a Danish flag. The result was announced, much closer than we thought. Then amongst all the confusion in the ring, one man held up a familiar flag. The whole crowd cheered on the Aboriginal flag. Tonight was a night for all Australians in the crowd to experience some Black Pride.

Driving home, I turned to Stan Zemanek. He was on the phone to “Abs”, Choc’s manager. “Oh no, is this going to be other Sheik Feiz incident?”, I thought to myself. But Abs summed the situation up perfectly. “Choc fought with enormous heart. We are all so proud of him. It may seem weird to hear the manager of a defeated boxer sounding proud. But for Choc to come so close to victory shows he is a boxing hero”. Or words to that effect.

I guess the ARL will have to wait a few more years for Choc’s return. In the meantime, this reluctant SNAIL has become a confirmed choc-a-holic.

(Irfan Yusuf likes to think of himself as a Sensitive New-Age Industrial Lawyer.)

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