Ukraine: Vitali Klitschko set to take on president

WORLD heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko plans to enter Ukraine’s fraught and at times dangerous ring of presidential politics by running for office, one of the sport’s governing bodies has announced.

Vitali Klitschko is a popular figure in Ukraine and serves as an MP, as well as being a WBC boxing champion. Picture: Getty

Klitschko will contest the 2015 presidential elections in an effort to unseat president Viktor Yanukovych, the World Boxing Council (WBC) said on its website.

Klitschko is the reigning WBC heavyweight-title holder.

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Perhaps thinking of a life after boxing, the 42-year-old has already become a member of parliament, taking up a seat last autumn for the pro-western Udar party, a name which translates as “Punch” .

“Vitali wants to keep participating in politics and run for the presidency of Ukraine in 2015,” said the WBC statement. “Boxing has greatly helped prepare him for this other life due to the strategy, work, discipline, dedication honesty and teamwork ethics which are essential to be successful.”

The WBC also said the boxer had dropped out of a fight to defend his title because of an injury to his right hand.

Standing 6ft 6ins tall and famed for a “hard chin”, ­Klitschko has a formidable knockout rate of 87 per cent, and has become one Ukraine’s most famous sporting sons. But along with his prowess at pummelling opponents, he boasts a doctorate in sports science and has a long interest in politics.

He ran for Kiev mayor in 2005, and has become an outspoken critic of the corruption that still bedevils much of Ukrainian life and of Mr Yanukovych, accusing the president of “doing everything to manipulate the rules to stay in office” and of “destroying” Ukraine’s chances of European integration.

The fighter has also condemned the imprisonment of Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister serving a jail sentence for “abuse of office”, a charge that her supporters claim was politically motivated, and has attended rallies calling for her release.

Elaborating on his political goals, the WBC statement said Klitschko “stressed what’s much more important than one person being president, is to improve the lives of Ukrainians with a more efficient economy, modernisation, more jobs and better opportunities for the future.”

Early indications are that Klitschko could be in with a chance of winning the presidency. A poll earlier this month showed that if he ran in the Kiev mayoral elections he could scoop around 30 per cent of the vote and that his popularity is on the rise.

But to run for the presidency of Ukraine requires political courage. Ukrainian politics has witnessed massive turmoil since the former Soviet republic achieved independence in 1991, and has been characterised by vitriolic clashes between opposing personalities and parties.

It is also laced with danger. Viktor Yushchenko, a former president, claims he was poisoned with dioxin during the bitter presidential election of 2004 that triggered the Orange Revolution.