The former world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko is not the only sporting giant to become embroiled in the escalating political struggle in his native Ukraine.
At the height of the street fighting in Kiev, Sergei Bubka, the pole-vault icon who heads Ukraine’s National Olympic Committee, urged both sides to lay down their weapons and halt the violence that was bringing the country to “the brink of catastrophe”. He said: “I pray and I appeal to both parties: stop violence, try to find the peace, keep us together to live in peace.” However, the Olympic gold medallist, who for four years was a member of the Ukrainian parliament, finds himself in an invidious situation.
Unlike Klitschko, he has been a supporter of the deposed president, Viktor Yanukovych, and has favoured strengthening ties with Russia, which is not a popular view in the current climate in Kiev. He and Klitschko, though both national idols and products of the same Soviet sporting system, are not close because of their political differences. Bubka, 50, recently made an unsuccessful bid for the presidency of the International Olympic Committee, whereas the 42-year-old “Dr Ironfist” has even loftier ambitions. He quit boxing to become a leader of Ukraine’s protest movement, and as a member of the interim government is to run for the country’s presidency in the May elections. Intriguingly, Vladimir Putin has wheeled out one of Russia’s own heavy hitters in an attempt to counterpunch Klitschko’s popularity. Nicolai Valuev, aka “The Beast from the East”, at 7ft an even more imposing figure than the 6ft 7in Klitschko, has been seen strolling around the city centre in Sevastapol, capital of Ukraine’s pro-Russian stronghold in Crimea. Valuev (below), who lost the WBA version of the world title to Britain’s David Haye, was joined by fellow Russian parliamentarian Irina Rodina, the former Olympic figure skater. Ironically, the last of Klitschko’s 45 fights was in Moscow, where he was applauded by Putin, a ringside spectator. Now the Russians themselves are in the opposite corner.
Sky in control
The gloves are also off at Sky, where the satellite scrap with the new kids on the box, BT, is becoming something of an uncivil war, with football as the battleground. Sky reckon BT jumped the gun when declaring that Sky’s Premier League coverage during the second half of the current season would be “incredibly weak” because of their “aggressive front-end loading” picks of plum matches. BT also boasted that it would be “the only place to watch the current top four teams in May”. However, a jubilant Sky now reveal a record-breaking April list in which 16 of the 17 live games they show will involve teams in the current top six. Altogether in March they will screen 16 matches to BT’s four, 17 to their three in April and at least seven to their one in May, thus ensuring the Championship decider will almost certainly be live on Sky yet again. As BT used to say, it is good to talk. But maybe not too soon, eh?
Pascoe’s final hurdle
Lord Coe was among those leading tributes to former fellow athlete Alan Pascoe, a pioneer of British sports marketing, who retired as president of London-based conglomerate CSM last week. Pascoe, 66, he said, is “deservedly recognised and revered as a trailblazer in the business of sports marketing, which he virtually invented in the UK”. Indeed, the former Olympic hurdling silver medallist is a most successful entrepreneur. Yet back in the Seventies the man whose astute sponsorship brokering has made him a multimillionaire was the Bob Crow of athletics, leading a rebellion for vital reform of the sport at the shop-floor level. I doubt he’ll be idle for long.