They say that sport and politics don’t mix, but as the problems in the Ukraine escalate it would appear that some of the countries top sportsmen cannot help but become involved.
At the height of the fighting on the streets in Kiev former World Pole Vault Champion Sergei Bubka who heads Ukraine’s Olympic Committee desperately urged both sides to lay down their weapons and bring a halt to the violence taking place. Sadly Olympic Gold medallist Bubka who felt that the violence was bringing the country ‘to the brink of catastrophe’ was not best placed to make this plea. A former Ukrainean politician himself he has long been a supporter of deposed president Viktor Yanukovych and has backed strengthening ties with Russia; not a popular view in Kiev.
Another athlete embroiled in the turmoil is recently retired former Heavyweight Boxing Champion Vitali Klitschko, like Bubka another product of the very successful Soviet sporting system. Yet that is pretty much where the comparisons end. Klitschko quit boxing to become a leader of the Ukraine’s protest movement and is a member of the interim government and will run for the country’s Presidency in the May elections.
It is believed that Vladimir Putin is using his own Heavyweight tactics to try and nip Klitschko’s aspirations in the bud. He has sent former WBA World Heavyweight Champion Nikolai Valuev the 7ft tall “Beast from the East” to Sevastapol which is the capital of the Ukraine’s pro- Russia stronghold in Crimea to try and sway some votes away from Klitschko. He was joined by former Olympic figure skater Irina Rodina, no doubt hoping to gain the female or possibly male votes.
Ironically Klitschko’s last professional bout was held in Moscow and ringside cheering him on was Vladimir Putin. It would appear that now the two are very much in opposite corners.
However as these sportsmen become embroiled in a fight that will see many innocent people hurt, we should spare a thought for the average Ukrainian. This country has a history of being invaded that goes back to the eleventh century. It also suffered greatly at the start of the last century where control of the city of Kiev changed hands five times in 25 years. Before World War II the population was over 400,000, by the time the fighting stopped it was only 80,000. Out of that loss of life and devastation came the legacy of Dynamo Kiev football club. A story brilliantly told by Andy Dougan in his book “Dynamo.” Let us hope it does not take more tragedy for a sporting legend to arise.