From The Pitch To Power: Three Athletes Who Made The Transition From Sport To Politics

“To say that politics are not part of sports is not being realistic. When I run, I am more than a runner. I am a diplomat, an ambassador for my country.” This quote is by former 1500m world record holder and middle-distance athlete, Filbert Bayi. He scratches the surface on how sports and politics intertwine.

Over the years, there has been an emergence of professional athletes not only laying it down on the field, but also taking up positions of serving people in their communities. These three athletes have been notable in their quests to becoming the best of both worlds.

1. Vitali Klitschko (Ukraine)

The former professional heavyweight boxer, 46, shocked the world with his ruthless displays of brute strength and dominance in his sport. He won 45/47 fights through knockouts, losing only twice in the process. Since his debut in 1996, Klitschko managed to put down almost every challenger in emphatic fashion until his final recorded fight on September 9, 2012. He won the fight on a technical knockout decision against German boxer, Manuel Charr. This closed the curtain on his fighting days, but paved the way for his political career.

His first encounter in the political arena was in 2010 when he failed in his bid to become Mayor of Kiev. It is during that same year that he became the leader of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform. As a fierce boxer, alongside his famous brother Wladimir Klitschko, his transition into politics was smoother due to his popularity. The appeal of superstardom naturally propelled him into his political career as he had a huge following from his boxing days.

A series of interviews with top media organisations such as, CNN and CBS lit the flame on what would be a promising career. Still a boxer at the time, he spoke passionately about his homeland and his desire to see improvement in the standard of living of the Ukrainian people. It was during these interviews that he realized his interest to enter into the political realm and bring about much needed change. He was able to establish himself as a firm leader who would instil hope in the eyes of millions of Ukrainians.

In 2014, Klitschko was one of the leaders that spearheaded the halt on government attacks against protesters in Kiev. This was during the turbulent political crisis in Ukraine and he was elected as mayor of Kiev as a result. Additionally, he took up the position of Kiev City State Administrator, a capacity he still serves to date.

2. Wesley Korir (Kenya)

This Boston Marathon winner and two-time Los Angeles Marathon champion has served his community as a member of the Kenyan parliament from 2013 to 2017. He was Member of Parliament representing the Cherangany Constituency when the Trans Nzoia County was elected into the national assembly.
Part of his legacy is the founding of the Kenya Kids Foundation to improve health and educational welfare of children in his community. In his capacity as a legislator, he garnered support for the building of a hospital in his home town of Kitale.

His drive to enter the political field from long distance running was captured in a documentary titled Transcend. In line with his background in sports, Korir was part of the Parliamentary and Social Welfare Committee formed in 2016 to probe members of the National Olympic Committee of Kenya. This is after a scandal of alleged mismanagement of funds during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games broke out.

3. George Weah (Liberia)

Of all the greats in sports that turned to politics, George Weah is the one man to have reached the pinnacle after being elected the President of Liberia in 2017. His pedigree on the field of play was unrivalled especially at his peak in 1995. He was named and remains to date the only African player to win the FIFA World Player of the Year, European Player of the Year and African Player of the Year awards.

After losing his bid to become President in 2005 and vice-president in 2011, he was elected into the Liberian Senate to represent Montserrado County in 2014. It was then that he sought to enact change in his community through sports. He entered into a multimillion-dollar agreement in 2016 with Indian investors to set up football academies that would benefit the youth in Liberia.
In one of his first admirable moves as President this year, he slashed his salary and other related benefits by 25% and channelled that money into a development fund. He has also championed for equality and a racism-free Liberia in his role as head of state.

These three athletes have shown that making the switch into politics is not only possible, but presents an opportunity to use prior experiences, their global platform and their global likeness to bring social change to their respective communities. Sports can teach us a lot and those lessons can in turn be adapted to suit a political climate. We see this nowadays with athletes taking a stand for the causes they believe. You do not need to hold office to make a change in the world, but these athletes have taken it upon themselves to put themselves in positions where they can make the biggest impact on the people around them.