11.29.04 – By Umar ben-Ivan Lee: When Vitali Klitschko steps into the ring December 11th to face the man from Brixton, London, Danny Williams, he will have more on his mind than defending the most prestigious title in all of sports.
“I was very close to canceling the fight, but we want to bring the message in my fight to the world about what is going on in Ukraine,” Vitali told AP writer Tam Dahlberg. Recently both brothers met with a number of local New York boxing writers wearing the orange colors of Ukrainian Presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko.This was before the Ukrainian Presidential election in which Viktor Yanukovych allegedly defeated the liberal democrat Yushchenko.
Immediately after the victory of Yanukovych was announced hundreds of allegations of fraud surfaced and hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian citizens went to the streets of Kiev to protest the disputed results. Wladimir Klitschko joined hundreds of thousands of his fellow citizens and not only rallied with them but spoke to the crowd. This is a very significant step given the fact that Klitschko is a celebrity in Ukraine, and because of that could be the target of violent pro-Yanukovych forces.
The parliament of Ukraine, under pressure from the street demonstrators, decaled the election results invalid, and now the entire issue is under review by the Ukrainian Supreme Court. What is at stake is the future of Ukraine; Yushchenko seeks to bring democratic and economic reform and to integrate Ukraine into the European economy. Yanukovych, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, seeks to keep Ukraine under the Russian sphere of influence. While the conflict at this stage is peaceful, many are concerned that a violent confrontation may be imminent.
This is not the first time that boxers have had to represent the hopes and aspirations of beleaguered nations in the news, or have fought for something greater than themselves. Felix Trinidad brought a sign with him calling for the ending of the bombing of the Puerto Rican island of Vieques during his epic-battle with Oscar De La Hoya. Sugar Ray Leonard wore trunks
bearing the word Amandala, the word for freeing Nelson Mandela during his second-bout with Thomas Hearns and a number of fighters during the civil-rights-era, most notable Muhammad Ali, used their notoriety to call for greater freedoms for African-Americans.
Umar ben-Ivan Lee may be reached at email@example.com