Shifting Focus From Boxing Arena to Political Arena

NEW YORK, NY -- The former heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko is a contender for another title — mayor of Kiev, Ukraine. Klitschko, 36, retired in November 2005, while he was the World Boxing Council heavyweight champion.

Vitali Klitschko was in New York on Monday, looking for investors for Kiev, Ukraine. He is a candidate in Kiev’s mayoral race.

He was 35-2 with 34 knockouts, and he left behind a $4.2 million purse that he would have collected had he defended his title against Hasim Rahman. A few days before that fight, he had an operation on his right knee, which had been badly injured while sparring, and decided to retire.

In March 2006, Klitschko entered the political ring in Kiev by campaigning for mayor on an anticorruption platform. That May, he finished second to Leonid Chernovetsky in a multicandidate race, winning about 25 percent of the vote.

As he campaigns again for the post in an election scheduled for May 25, Klitschko is gaining more support, according to a recent poll by an analytical research center in Kiev, Institut Goroda. A total of 29.8 percent of those polled said they would vote for him, while 14.6 percent said they would choose Chernovetsky. Another 9 percent said they would vote for Olexander Omelchenko, who held the post for 10 years before the 2006 election.

“There is too much political corruption in Kiev, which is hurting this city in terms of development,” Klitschko said recently by telephone from the city, where he lives with his wife and three children. He works as a city councilman in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine with a population of about 3 million. “We need to bring Kiev up to proper European and American standards. But legitimate businessmen cannot invest money here, because the only deals made with this government are made under the table with their family and friends.”

Klitschko visited New York on Monday and will be in Washington on Tuesday to meet with politicians and potential investors for Kiev. He planned to return home Wednesday.

“I’m still young, and I have a lot of energy to fulfill my vision for a better Kiev,” Klitschko said in the telephone interview. “We are a young democracy in need of many strategies for development, including the development of buildings and roads, and we need to make sure that the people of Kiev can afford to pay for medicine, food, water, gas and other necessities.”

The 6-foot-7 Klitschko, a son of a Soviet Air Force colonel, was born in Belovodsk, Kyrgyzstan, which was part of the Soviet Union at the time. He qualified for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, but failed a drug test before the Games and was removed from the Ukrainian team.

His younger brother, Wladimir, replaced him on the team and won the gold medal in the superheavyweight division. Wladimir holds the heavyweight titles for the International Boxing Federation, the World Boxing Organization and International Boxing Organization.

Having lived for long stretches in Germany and Los Angeles, where his children were born, Klitschko says he has a vision for Kiev.

“I’ve been to many parts of the world, and I know by comparison that there’s a better way of life in the United States and in Europe than there is here,” he said. “The traffic in Kiev is terrible because we don’t have real highways for cars to travel. My home is about a mile away from my office, and sometimes it takes me an hour to get to work. There’s traffic in New York and Los Angeles, but nothing as incredible as this.”

Roy Jones Jr., a former heavyweight champion who has held numerous light-heavyweight titles, said he viewed Klitschko’s run for mayor as “a beautiful idea.”

“If a movie star can be the governor of California,” Jones said, referring to the current governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, “why can’t a boxer be the mayor of Kiev?”

Jones said Klitschko’s boxing experience was good preparation for political sparring. “Vitali is a very smart guy,” he said. “And I’m sure he is studying his opponents, as well as the problems of the people he wants to represent, which will make him as successful in politics as he is in the ring.”

Klitschko received a Ph.D. in philosophy in sports science from the Kiev University, an accomplishment that helped earn him the nickname Dr. Iron Fist. He announced last year that he would return to the heavyweight division in the future, possibly in a fight against Samuel Peter for his W.B.C. title. Although injuries have set him back, he said, he is still leaning toward a return.

“I train for two hours every morning before I go to work,” he said. “I’m in great fighting shape right now.”

For now, the only opponents he has in mind are those who will be running against him next month.

“Every goal I have ever set for myself in life, I have made come true,” Klitschko said. “My biggest goal right now is to help create a modern, democratic Ukraine. To me, there is no fight more important than that.”

Source: International Herald Tribune