Party of Five: Sportspeople in politics

Imran Khan’s supporters gather at a party rally.

We’re going all political with this week’s edition of ‘Party’. With Britain seemingly working itself into frenzy over elections abroad, it would be a shame not to capitalise on this momentary surge in enthusiasm.

According to key players within the Obama campaign, the President’s basketball prowess was certainly an asset during the election cycle. Barack’s endurance, composure under pressure, and ability to recover from setbacks all proved pivotal. There’s an argument to be made that competitive sport is the ideal preparation for a career in politics. We pay tribute to five individuals who have made best use of their considerable athletic ability to make a difference to people’s lives.

1. Sir Menzies Campbell

A Lib Dem veteran and former leader of the party, the right honourable gentleman held the world record for the 100 metres for seven years. He represented Great Britain at the ’64 Tokyo Games and went on to run the distance in 10.2 seconds whilst studying in America. Still in office at the tender age of 72, there’s no doubting a healthy early lifestyle has contributed to his longevity. His athletic career eventually petered out but between 1967 and 1974 he was hailed “fastest white man on the planet”. His then future-wife Elspeth is rumoured to have taken an interest in him after someone mentioned this at a party.

2. Manny Pacquaio

One of the Philippines’ finest exports, Pacquaio’s achievements in the boxing ring have made him one of the most revered figures in the country. ‘The Nation’s Fist’ – as he is sometimes known – is currently serving his second term as a Congressman in the House of Representatives. It would certainly take a brave politician to square up to Pacquaio given his broad appeal. The Pac-man’s biggest concern at the moment is juggling preparations for an upcoming election to decide who runs the country from 2013, and organising a potential bout with rival Floyd Mayweather Jr. Pacquaio has campaigned relentlessly on behalf of his constituents and promised to help eradicate poverty amongst other things. We salute you Manny.

3. Imran Khan

Politics in Pakistan is not for the faint-hearted. However, this doesn’t seem to have deterred Khan who most recently made headlines for waltzing into lawless South Waziristan to protest drone attacks. His face was all over the papers for altogether different reasons in 1992 after guiding Pakistan to World Cup victory. It was Khan’s dogged determination that galvanised the team after an indifferent early start to the competition that almost saw them knocked out. It’s admirable that Khan risked his national hero status, and his marriage to Jemima Goldsmith, to try to bring long overdue reform to Pakistan. As the leader of Pakistan’s Movement for Justice he will be hoping for success at the polls in 2013.

4. Kakha Kaladze

The first Georgian to win a Champions League medal and widely regarded as one of the nation’s greatest ever players. Kaladze’s journey into politics is tinged with sadness, however. The kidnap and eventual murder of his brother in his native Georgia a few years ago encouraged him to take up politics. After retiring from football in May his party went on to win the election and he was appointed Minister of Energy.

“I want to fight for liberty and democracy in Georgia. I dream of a Georgia in which my children can grow in freedom.” – Kakhaber Kaladze

5. Romario

A colourful character both on and off the pitch, Romario was elected to Congress in 2010 to represent Rio de Janeiro. He is now one of the country’s most influential and outspoken politicians who regularly campaigns on issues affecting the poorest Brazilians, perhaps not surprising given his humble beginnings. Observing Romario confidently navigate Brazilian politics, you could be forgiven for overlooking his incredible achievements within football. One of the few players to surpass the 1000 goal mark during his career, he also built a reputation for himself as a bit of a rascal. We can expect him to be in the news more frequently as the 2014 World Cup in Brazil nears.

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