Inside Lines: Vitali Klitschko set to swap world title for his freedom fight


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Nelson Mandela said that had he not fought for democracy in South Africa he would love to have been the world heavyweight boxing champion. One who actually is now follows a similar long walk to freedom.

Vitali Klitschko is battling out of the ring for the political future of his native Ukraine, standing tall on the streets of Kiev amid the violent anti-government protests that have captured the world’s attention. The 6ft 7in “Dr Ironfist” is embroiled in the struggle against the vilified president Viktor Yanukovich, emerging as his main challenger in the elections scheduled for 2015. However, the 42-year-old champion who desires to be a political contender must decide this week whether to give up the title he has held for almost a decade.

That is the deadline set by the World Boxing Council for him to name a date to defend against Bermane Stiverne or relinquish the sport’s most authentic belt. In view of Klitschko’s apparent full-time commitment as a political heavyweight, the latter option seems probable, with Stiverne, a Haiti-born Canadian, matched with America’s big-punching sensation Deontay Wilder for the vacant title. Apart from Muhammad Ali, Klitschko surely is the most remarkable of heavyweight champions. Like his younger brother, Wladimir, he holds a PhD. Now he has an altogether different fight on his hands as leader of a pro-Western, anti-Putin party, the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform, whose initials appropriately translate into the Ukrainian word for “punch”. He is said to be 20 per cent ahead in the polls for a presidential race likely to be far fiercer than any of his 17 title fights. Mandela would have applauded this fellow freedom fighter.

Singapore sting

Singapore, a tiny south-east Asian peninsula the size of the Isle of Wight, has emerged as the epicentre of the illegal betting scams transfixing (if you’ll pardon the phrase) football, not least in this country. Yet illegal gambling cartels were operating when I worked there in the Eighties. Then, sport was considered an irrelevance on an education-is-everything government agenda, and such corruption slipped under the radar. But since Singapore has realised that sport brings big business, opening casinos and staging major events, I am surprised that these illegal activities have not been stamped out. The laws remain draconian – Singapore has a hang-’em-flog-’em doctrine – so why have they been unable to crack down on the hucksters who are making the Singapore sting more potent than the Singapore Sling?

Prawn in the game

The latest pompous politico to jump aboard the football-bashing bandwagon is one Sir Bob Russell, the Lib Dem MP for Colchester, who last week called for a Royal Commission “to clean up the game”, telling Parliament: “Professional football in this country is rotten to the core, not least parasitic agents taking millions of pounds a year out of the game.” Among those less than impressed by Sir Bob’s pontificating will be Robbie Cowling, the owner of Colchester United, who last year accused him of being a “freeloading, prawn sandwich-eating, fair-weather fan”, who only went to games if he had a free invitation to a corporate box.

Brought to book

Britain’s relatively unsung world squash champion Nick Matthew may have elected not to make the short journey from Sheffield to Leeds for tonight’s BBC SPOTY awards in protest at the scant coverage his sport receives, but he did show up when the Sports Journalists’ Association held theirs in London last week. And so surprised was he to receive a special award that he was busy signing copies of his excellent autobiography, Sweating Blood, and almost didn’t hear when his named was called to collect it.