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The two brothers Klychko, Vitaliy and Volodymyr, are both prize fighters and their fame among sport fans has spread far beyond the borders of Ukraine. Yevhen BUDKO, senior editor of Mizhnarodny Turyzm Magazine, talked to Vitaliy, the elder brother, who is currently the WBC (World Boxing Council) world champion.
Vitaliy Klychko (the spelling of the name in Latin characters is usually Klitschko) had 40 fights, 38 wins among them. It is not only in heavyweight boxing that Vitaliy Klychko has distinguished himself. He is a deputy of the City Council of Kyiv, a politician, and a philanthropist. He is happily married with 3 children.
Mr Klychko, what is taking more of your time now — politics or sport?
Politics. But it does not mean that sport has taken a back seat and is a second priority. As long as I achieve victories, I’ll stay in boxing. Victories in any field are good for Ukraine’s prestige. I’m convinced that from victories in sports to achievements in social development and economy is but one step. I’m bringing together a group of likely minded people, I keep meeting people, I invest my time into the future of my country.
I know that at one point in your very successful boxing career you quit — but then you came back to win more victories. How difficult was a come-back for you?
Not that difficult as one might think. In fact, I have never stopped training and doing workouts. And I don’t think I ever will. Sport and training have become an integral part of my life. I believe in motto “Healthy spirit in a healthy body.” When I won an important bout after a four-year absence in the big-time boxing, the skeptics were duly impressed. The experience you gain, no matter in what field you gain it, stays with you and always comes in handy. Now, in addition to sport, I’ve gained some experience in politics as well, and I hope it will allow me to attain good results too.
Both in sport and in politics one faces opponents. What are the similarities and differences between opponents in sports and in politics?
In sport, you face your opponents only during the competitions, and the victors are hailed and not subjected to censuring judgment. The winner takes it all. In sport, you act in accordance with clearly set rules which are strictly controlled. In Ukraine, in politics the rules, even those that are set up by the politicians themselves, are often ignored. Do you see now the basic difference between sport and politics? It is what shocked me most when I entered politics — the absence in Ukrainian politics of any firm principles, norms or rules. In big-time sport, for any violation of the rules similar to the transgressions that the Ukrainian politicians commit, the athlete who has committed such a violation would be disqualified for life. There are countries in which the politicians follow the rules — but Ukraine is not one of such countries. If things continue to be the way they are in Ukrainian politics, we shall never attain the goal this country wants to achieve — to become a state that meets the present-day world standards. So I think that the politicians of my generation should change the rules — or rather make the rules and laws work.
The political group that I head (Blok Vitaliya Klychka) wants to bring it home to all the Ukrainians that politics is something that everyone can and should take part in. We should make the bureaucrats and officials work for us, citizens of Ukraine, rather than for themselves. If we don’t do it, we’ll forever remain pawns in the games the politicians play… It concerns not only this country in general but Kyiv in particular. Kyiv could easily get on a par with other European capitals in many respects. Probably, my words may seem to someone too optimistic and naively hopeful. But I do think it can be done. The people in the Blok Klychka do not aspire to careers of important officials and bureaucrats in order “to divide and rule.” They have been in politics for a considerable length of time now and they have managed not to succumb to temptations of which there were many. Now we are a united force which works in opposition to the city authorities and we do not let them relax. But we realize that we’ll have to deal with many challenging problems in the city that has been devastated by the city authorities. We are prepared to deal with any problems.
If we talk about Ukraine in general, the country that has been badly hit by the crisis — do you have any plans how to take it out of this crisis?
A constitutional reform is needed in Ukraine — the duties of the president and of the prime minister should be clearly separated and defined. Because of the constant confrontations between the president and the premier, the people have begun to lose confidence in them. In fact, people do not any longer believe in the institution of courts, in justice, or in fair law enforcement in general. Recent opinion polls show that only two percent of the Ukrainians trust Ukraine’s parliament! It’s an appalling figure!
Those managers who did not wait for the government to introduce an anti-crisis program and began acting on their own initiative to get the factories and companies they run out of the crisis, have proven right to do so. It is thanks to them that the country has come out of the deadly nosedive and seems to have embarked on the course that will gradually improve the economic situation. Ukrainian politicians should stop preaching what should be done — they should start working hard!
What was it that motivated you to go into politics?
Thanks to my sports career, I visited a lot of countries and met a lot of important people, and every time I came back to Ukraine, I asked myself, why is it that so many things are so much worse in Ukraine? Why is it that world standards, laws and rules do not seem to work in Ukraine?
Being in the center of social events, one can attract attention of major companies, one can engage influential people in solving the urgent problems of society.
Do you think Ukraine should lean more towards Russia or Europe, EU, NATO?
It’s a highly speculative question that Ukrainian politicians are abusing in their election campaigns. I think it is for the Ukrainian people to decide which way to go, not for the politicians. That’s all there’s to it. It is the national Ukrainian interests that should be a top priority, it is a matter of national pragmatism, or even national egotism if you want. We should not be striving to join Europe — we should be striving to introduce the European standards of living in this country.
In Washington, DC, at the Library of Congress, I read books by leading economists and politicians from various countries of the world. And I came to the conclusion that we should not try to turn Ukraine into a country like the United States, or a second France, or any other country — we should remain what we are, but we should borrow the best ideas and achievements from others and implement them in our country. But we can’t use the same methods the USA used, for example, in getting out of the Great Depression in order to take Ukraine out of the current crisis. We can’t have another Roosevelt in Ukraine — we should not copy others, we should learn and apply the knowledge acquired to our conditions.
I find Ukraine to be a unique country. It can be proud of many achievements in culture and in other fields. The Ukrainian language is considered to be one of the most melodic languages in the world. Ukrainian folk art is a great artistic phenomenon, much admired beyond the borders of Ukraine. The geographical center of Europe is in Ukraine, and Ukraine should become a true European center. We should preserve our cultural heritage and contribute our own achievements.
You were not born in Ukraine, were you?
No, I was born in Kyrgyzstan. My father was a military man and he often had to move from place to place. My father has always been for me a model to follow, a person who will never let anybody down. My mother, who is a teacher, fostered the sense of learning in me. Since 1984, I’ve been living in Kyiv. But because of my boxing career I had to spend quite some time abroad, mostly in Germany and the United States. When abroad, no matter how nice it was there, I always felt I wanted to go home, to Ukraine. And it did feel so great to be back home, in Kyiv! I connect my future with Ukraine which, I’m sure, will become a flourishing state. My brother largely shares my views.
Is it true that the desire to beat Mike Tyson was what made you go into big-time sport in the first place?
I believe that the main thing for a person is to set goals and then do their best to achieve them. Dream — and then work hard to make your dreams come true… As far as beating Tyson is concerned — well, yes, once I said to my schoolmates that I wished I could fight a bout with Tyson, and that I was sure I’d beat him. Time passed, Tyson retired so I did not have a chance of beating him, but I did win the champion’s belt that once Tyson and Mohamed Ali wore!
What, in your opinion, is the state of things in the Ukrainian sports now?
Ukraine is one of the top twenty leading sport nations of the world. The most popular sport in the world seems to be soccer, and Ukraine is no exception in this. The soccer club from Donetsk has recently won the prestigious UEFA cup. Ukraine has been chosen to be the venue of the European Cup 2012. Incidentally, the new stadium, Donbas-Arena, built in Donetsk meets the most stringent world requirements. Ukraine can boast of excellent achievements in many sports.
What does your company, K2 East Promotions, actually do?
Six years ago we founded a charity fund, Fond brativ Klychkiv, which is designed to promote a healthy life among the young people. Our company, K2 East Promotions, helps Ukrainian amateur boxers to become top professionals.
We want to bring over to Ukraine the boxing competitions of the top world level, we do talent scouting. The potential for developing professional boxing in Ukraine is truly great — it has an excellent basis in amateur boxing. At the moment we promote 15 boxers, 8 of them have achieved great results. We want to make boxing one of the most popular sports in Ukraine, we want to promote our boxers both in Ukraine and in the world.
But isn’t boxing a rather cruel sport? Would you really want your children to go in for boxing?
No, not really (smiles). In fact, my own involvement in boxing was rather accidental. And it was very hard work to achieve good results. But, of course, if my children still want to go into boxing — two prize fighters, me and my brother, are a powerful model to follow, I’ll do my best to help them. But so far, my eldest son is into chess, horse riding and tennis.
I know that one of your major sponsors in Ukraine is a company that makes alcohol. It seems to me to be a bit inconsistent with the aims of sport.
I think one has to know how to be responsible in everything. Everyone should be entitled to make a choice. The Nemiroff Company has been supporting the development of sports in Ukraine for many years now. Thanks to this company new gyms and sports grounds have been opened, and the new ones will continue to be built. I think it is very helpful for the development of sports.
Can money buy a victory in a professional sport? Are there arranged bouts in prize fighting? Bribery? Intrigues?
I’m afraid there are. Prize fighting bouts are a great show. The public has to be entertained and motivated by scandals and challenging announcements. But usually, the less a boxer can show in the ring, the more vocal and vociferous he gets.
As far as buying victories or letting somebody win for money, I have nothing to do with it. In fact, no one has ever dared to suggest anything of the kind either to me or my brother (laughs).
Your recent victory was another one on your list of impressive achievements in boxing. Could you say a few words about it?
My opponent, Chris Arreola, a US boxer of Mexican descent, had never been beaten before. He had great ambitions and was eager to become the world champion. Incidentally, boxing and soccer are the two most popular sports in Mexico. All of these things made me aware that I had to be prepared as best as I could. The match took place on September 26, 2009 in the Staples Center, Los Angeles. It was broadcast on HBO. I believe it was a spectacular boxing event. I am glad I was able to perform to the best of my ability and win the bout. I’m sorry that it came as a great disappointment for the many fans of the American boxer who watched the bout.
When abroad, what kinds of opinions about Ukraine do you come across?
It’s not only what people say, but what the media has to say about Ukraine that is interesting. For example, I read an article in Newsweek that said that it was the oligarchs (magnates with a political clout) who ruled in Ukraine, and that they bought their political clout with money. The Guardian called Kyiv’s mayor Leonid Chernovetsky a Ukrainian populist answer to Boris Johnson who had invented an interesting means of attracting voters by singing. It is a pity that Ukraine is looked upon through the prism of oligarchs and such mayors as Chernovetsky. Some of the western politicians I know told me it was interesting to see what kind of atrocious things Ukrainian influential political figures did in pursuit of their goals… But Ukraine is not a reality show! In the USA, the Orange Revolution was enthusiastically hailed as a great event, but now they talk of a troubling potential for massive uprisings in Ukraine…
At the same time, there are a lot of negative things that are said about Ukraine and which have no other purpose than to besmirch Ukraine’s reputation and spread slander and cast aspersions on Ukraine. I’m afraid we ourselves allow this kind of attitude to us. Our politicians have gone too far in their disregard of the needs of the people, they do not care to support the prestige of Ukraine.
You’ve seen many cities in the world — how does Kyiv compare to them?
Nothing compares to Kyiv. The Kyiv-born Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov considered Kyiv to be the best city in the world — and I share his opinion.
You sound as a person who likes Kyiv…
I love it! I love Kyiv parks, horse chestnuts in particular. I enjoy taking walks in Hydropark and in Trukhaniv Ostriv.
I know that Mike Tyson, who has been mentioned, visited Kyiv — was it on your invitation?
Yes, we invited him to come and he did. I took him on a sightseeing tour which included the most significant architectural and historical landmarks of Kyiv. At the Mykhailivsky Cathedral we saw a kobzar (a singer of ballads who plays the traditional Ukrainian instrument kobza) who was performing old Ukrainian ballads. Tyson listened to the musician for quite some time — apparently he was moved. Since the kobzar was definitely a busker, Tyson put some money into the small basket that stood in front of the musician… In spite of what the media reported about Tyson, I felt absolutely no aggressiveness in his character. He was greatly impressed by the Ukrainian hospitality — and he greatly appreciated the true Ukrainian borsch too!
Would you care to say a few words about your family life, your hobbies.
I’m away from home for considerable lengths of time and I am always looking forward to coming back home. It’s the greatest time for me when we all get together for family reunions! Once in a while my wife asks me, “Vitaliy, will you ever be flying to far away cities and countries?” to which I reply, “My dear, when you were marrying me, didn’t I warn you that my life was very dynamic and I would spend a lot of time away from home?...”
One of my current hobbies is kitesurfing. I got interested after I saw kitesurfing competitions in Germany. It was so exciting I could not wait to start doing it myself. And I did go into it with a great enthusiasm. But at the very first training session I got injured — and so bad that I had to seek medical help. But it did not stop me from pursuing this sport further. At first, both my wife and my brother were very skeptical, but now Volodymyr has gotten the bug himself and is doing kitesurfing. I find some places in Egypt and on the Black Sea coast to be very good for doing this sport. But, in fact, the Dnipro River offers excellent places for kitesurfing too.
It is hard to avoid asking a traditional journalistic question — what are your future plans as far as your boxing career is concerned? Are you planning to take on WBA heavyweight world boxing champion Nikolai Valuev from Russia?
My brother and I often said that we were planning to win ALL the world champion titles there are. And Valuyev is the holder of the title of WBA world champion. I do hope that a bout with him can be organized and I wish it would take place in Ukraine as early as the next spring.
Photos are from
Vitaliy Klychko’s archives
Vitaliy Klychko with his wife.
Vitaliy and Volodymyr Klychko are the holders of all the top IBO, WBO, IBF and WBC heavyweight world championship titles.
Vitaliy Klychko takes Mike Tyson on a sightseeing tour of Kyiv. April 2009.
Vitaliy Klychko is getting ready for his next fight which be held in Bern, Switzerland, on December 12 2009.
Vitaliy Klychko sandwiched between the Hollywood macho men Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Vitaliy Klychko loves Kyiv and thoroughly enjoys taking walks in its historical neighborhoods.
Photos are from Vitaliy Klychko's archives[Prev][Contents][Next]