Boxing promoter Frank Warren believes there is an “unfair” agenda being pursued against Amir Khan after the WBA light-welterweight champion said he would be a bigger star if he was white.
Khan, who defends his title against American Dmitriy Salita in Newcastle tonight, told journalists on Thursday: “I know if, maybe, I was a white English fighter, I would be a superstar in Britain.”
However, furious Warren has slammed Khan’s inquisitors, accusing them of “playing on his naivety” in the pursuit of headlines that he insists have no bearing on the reality of Khan’s situation.
Warren said: "I'm really disappointed that people keep asking Amir these questions. We’ve managed to keep race and religion out of this fight and I find it offensive and sad.
“People don’t ask David Haye what it’s like to be black. They don’t ask Catholic fighters about the problems in Northern Ireland. When James Degale got booed, they didn’t put it down to racism.
“Amir is 22 and perhaps they are playing on his naivety. It must play on Amir’s mind – why are people asking me this all the time? It’s totally unfair on Amir, and it is very disappointing.”
Khan’s father Shah has already distanced himself from his son’s comments, telling BBC Radio Five Live: “I don’t agree with it to tell you the truth. I don’t know why he made that comment.”
Warren added: “Amir is a superstar. When he won the silver medal nine million people watched him. Nearly all the venues where he has fought have sold out. Amir is a great British fighter – end of story.”
Former IBO welterweight champion Jawaid Khaliq, who was one of the country’s most prominent Asian boxers, said he understood why Khan might believe racism to be an issue.
Khaliq, who became a hero in Nottingham’s Pakistani community and now runs a boxing gym in the city, said: “When I didn’t get the big fights in the US I was hoping for I did start to wonder what was holding me back.
“Of course you get the remarks and the criticism from people who are mostly jealous because of who you are. I think there’s an element of racism throughout sport and it’s nothing unique to boxing.
“But the bottom line is if you’re good enough you can still pull through. Amir’s done exceptionally well, he’s united the whole country behind him since the Olympics and he’s a fantastic role model for Asian sport.”