Rome

Ali's Italian 'godson' bids for European title

Senegal-born boxer lauds Kyenge, Idem citizenship calls

Ali's Italian 'godson' bids for European title

(By Sandra Cordon). Rome, June 6 - Italian boxer Muhammad 'Ali' Ndiaye says he has a lot to be grateful for as he heads into a major European match this weekend. Senegalese-born, Ndiaye was born to a boxing champion father, and as a baby, he was raised into the air in an informal pre-bout ceremony by visiting American boxing legend Muhammad Ali. Ndiaye's later marriage to an Italian woman brought him a family, citizenship, and the stability to pursue a career in the boxing ring, he says. Former Senegal champ Ndiaye, 33, faces his next challenge Saturday night in Brindisi on Italy's Adriatic coast, where he will face French boxer Christopher Rebrasse for the European super middle-weight championship. Ndiaye, who styles himself the godson of Ali, says he is proud of his African origins, but equally proud to be Italian, where he has lived most of his life, acquiring a Tuscan accent along the way. He credits much of his good fortune to his marriage in 2002 to Federica, a woman he met on a train. The couple now has two children. "If I had not married, I'd still be a (street vendor)," claims Ndiaye, who counts Josefa Idem, Italian Minister for Equal Opportunities and Sports, among his supporters. His family life has given him the stability necessary to focus on becoming a boxing champion, a trait that also came from his father. Moussa Ndiaye was a five-time national boxing champion in Senegal and a friend of Muhammad Ali, the three-time world heavyweight champion who became Ndiaye's unofficial godfather in 1981. "Today, I am proud to be Italian," says Ndiaye. "Italian blood runs in my family, my wife and my children are Italian, even though I was born in Senegal and am happy with this and with my parents". The boxer, who lives and trains in the Tuscan town of Pontedera, not far from Pisa, says he hopes that his life story might be an inspiration to others, particularly disadvantaged youth. "There are young people who could become champions, but they cannot; so they must be given a chance". His views extend into the political arena, where debate now rages over suggested amendments to liberalize Italy's immigration laws. He supports the idea, promoted by Congo-born Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge, of extending citizenship to children born in Italy to foreign parents. "Mine is not a unique case," adds Ndiaye. His community of Pontedera has many foreign-born "promising young boxers," willing to serve Italy in the military or in other forms, yet cannot because they are not citizens. "They feel Italian, live in Italy, speak Italian, but they are not nationals," he says. Ndiaye also likes Equal Opportunities Minister Josefa Idem's proposal that young immigrants who distinguish themselves in sport should be entitled to become Italian citizens before the current age threshold of 18. As for his future beyond Saturday night's match, Ndiaye says he might like to someday become a firefighter in Pontedera when his boxing days are over. But his greatest dream? "I would like to get together with Ali, despite his declining health. He saw me when I was born and then when I was nine years old, so I have a few memories. "I would like to see him again".

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