BY NEIL SHEFFERD
A Torch donated to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), said to be used by Muhammad Ali to light the Olympic Cauldron at Atlanta 1996, may not be the original version.
The Torch was donated to the IOC by former Formula One chief executive Bernie Ecclestone after he acquired it at an auction believing it was the original, as reported by NYSportsJournalism.
Its authenticity is being disputed as the Muhammad Ali Museum, based in Kentucky in the United States, claims that it houses the original as part of its collection.
“The Ali Center still has on display the torch that Muhammad carried at the Atlanta Olympic Games,” said its senior director of public relations and external affairs Jeanie Kahnke.
“It was donated to the centre by the Muhammad Ali family.
“We have the assurance from the family that this Torch is the original.”
Ecclestone claimed that when he bid for the Torch at auction he believed it was the original version, and that he donated it to the IOC in good faith.
“I understood that this was the final Torch of the Relay for the Atlanta Games, which was used by Muhammad Ali to light the cauldron,” said Ecclestone.
“There was even some media coverage around the auctioning of the final Atlanta 1996 Torch.
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this torch could be displayed in The Olympic Museum?’ and I decided to enter the auction.
“Eventually, I won the bid and donated the Torch to the IOC in good faith.”
An IOC spokesperson said: “Mr Ecclestone clearly acted in good faith to make a very generous donation to the IOC.
“All of us thought this was the final Torch signed by Muhammad Ali.”
Three-time world heavyweight boxing champion Ali, who died aged 74 in 2016, had a strong connection with the Olympic Games, claiming the gold medal in the lightweight division at Rome 1960.
Ali suffered from Parkinson’s disease since 1984, three years after his retirement from boxing.
He continued to make public appearances, despite his illness, and lit the Olympic Cauldron at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, in what proved to be one of the Games’ most iconic moments.