MIAMI BEACH (CBSMiami) – For most boxers preparing for a fight, any type of distraction can be a major problem. For heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko he must prepare for a fight in April while also worrying about his brother and his home country of Ukraine.
Klitschko, 38, spoke to reporters Monday about the deteriorating situation in Ukraine while he was training for his April 26th world heavyweight title defense against Alex Leapai in Germany. Wladimir’s brother, Vitali, is the leader of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform party and is helping lead the charge for major reforms in the former Soviet republic.
For Wladimir, the desire to continue his boxing career and his desire to return home to Ukraine to help the fight for democracy has put him in a tough position.
“Should I stay in Ukraine and do certain work over there, which has previously been done. I have a brother who’s a politician and he’s representing me in a certain way over there and I’m representing him over here, but I know that as Nelson Mandela said, ‘sport has the power to change the world.’ I believe in it very strongly because this fight on the 26th of April is going to be staged in Germany and put additional focus on everything that is going on in Ukraine because I do represent my country as well,” Wladimir Kiltschko said Thursday.
Still, Wladimir can’t separate himself from what’s happening in his home country. He said he receives constant updates from his brother and friends through phone calls and social media. Klitschko said that he felt “sadness” for what is going on in Ukraine and that “my mind is over there, but my body is here.”
“It’s frustrating because, not just myself, but no one could possibly imagine that something like that could happen,” Wladimir said. “With all the deaths that happened during the day on 17th and 18th of February, it was just something that was impossible in a country like Ukraine that was never involved in any way, never had any terrorist attacks, a country that was always open and welcome.”
The Ukrainian issue is complex due to the competing nationalities fighting for power. Much of the Eastern part of the country leans towards Russia and the western sections of the country want to establish more ties with western Europe.
Still, Wladimir said that much like sports was able to heal wounds in South Africa; Klitschko hopes that boxing and other events like soccer may help unite his home country. Klitschko said that what’s going on is not understandable and breaks international law.
“We’re all trying to stay strong and stay together,” Klitschko said. “There’s only one solution and that is in no way, no means a military solution. It’s all about diplomacy and good politics because no one can return the lost lives.”
Klitschko continued, “I just hope with all of the international presence and awareness that certain steps on the political and diplomatic side will also put the geopolitical question into place. I’m also looking forward to the presidential election on the 25th of May that is very important not to postpone because we need to get everything in place and to move forward because the longer we are with a temporary government the more difficulty we are going to face.”
When asked what his emotions are regarding Ukraine, Klitschko replied, “disappointment, anger, worry, a combination of of it all.”
“Without international pressure and attention to everything that’s going on, it’s going to be difficult do anything Democratic in a good way in Ukraine on the political side and the economic side,” Wladimir said. “It’s going to effect the east and the west. This geopolitical issue has a lot of downside that unfortunately regular people will struggle with, and I’m talking about the economy.”
As for the boxing match itself, Klitschko said that Alex Lapai is “highly motivated and will do anything and everything to get the titles off my hands.”
Klitschko turns 38 on Tuesday and while that may be close to retirement age for many athletes, he said he may have another two good years of fights left, or more. He’s scheduled to travel to Austria on Saturday and then return to the Ukraine after the April 26 title defense.