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Sunday, August 1, 1999 Published at 09:15 GMT 10:15 UK


Boxing champion Ali voted 'The Greatest'

Muhammad Ali is still active outside the boxing ring

Former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali has topped a BBC News Online poll to find the greatest sportsperson of the millennium.

Muhammad Ali was the frontrunner throughout July's vote, pushing footballer Pele into second place and cricketer Sunil Gavaskar into third place.

But cricket stars dominate the top 10 winners, taking five places.

The vote was the sixth in BBC News Online's monthly Your Millennium series. In August you can vote for the funniest person of the last thousand years.

To inspire you, comic writer Richard Curtis and comedy team French and Saunders have contributed their personal Top-10 lists.

Taking part in last month's Your Millennium contest for greatest sportsperson were Trevor Brooking and Imran Khan - who was chosen as number eight in the poll.

Both put Muhammad Ali as number one.

Boxing legend

Muhammad Ali was the first fighter ever to win the world heavywright championship three times, thrilling the audiences of the 1960s and 70s.

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The fights were sensational - "The Rumble in the Jungle" with George Foreman, "The Thriller in Manila" with Joe Frazier and epic battles against Sonny Liston.

But his activities outside the ring then and now have also made him a popular public figure.

He was prepared to risk jail when he refused to join the US army to fight in Vietnam, and he is credited with helping change people's attitudes to race.

It was his conversion to the Muslim faith that gave him the conviction of his beliefs, and led him to change his name from Cassius Clay.

Now, despite suffering from Parkinson's Disease, Muhammad Ali is an active campaigner for Jubilee 2000, the organisation that campaigns for the cancellation of Third World debt. In a trip to Brixton, South London, to campaign on the issue, he brought the streets to a standstill.

During the Gulf war in 1991 he was able to talk to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussain, and negotiate the release of a number of American hostages.

And he moved people to tears in 1996 when he lit the torch at the Atlanta Olympics.

Muhammad Ali won the BBC News Online vote with a huge lead, with many people choosing him for his activities both inside and outside the boxing ring.

Joe Worthy said: "Muhammad Ali was great sportsman and did not bow to pressure to go to Vietnam."

And Noor Jivraj said: "He had the grace of a ballet dancer, and when at his best, made boxing look like an art form. But also was a man of principles and integrity."

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