INTERVIEW: VITALIY KLITSCHKO
Vitaliy Klitschko and his brother Wladimir dominated boxing earlier this century, with Vitaliy a three-time world heavyweight champion across three different decades. Now mayor of Kyiv – and a huge football fan – he uses his position to push the power of sport to transform people’s lives. Here he talks boxing, Blokhin and borscht as he shines a light on Ukraine’s great capital
I didn’t play football with my brother because he wasn’t very good. We’re both better at boxing! But, if I’m being honest, I’m a better player than Wladimir. I’m five years older so I played with a group of older guys in our courtyard. We always had to win. Football was always being played at school, in the yard, at home. Football is a great game: it’s passion, it’s adrenaline, it’s full of emotions. I grew up with football, ever since I was a little boy. I simply love the game.
My heroes were Platini, Maradona, Oleh Blokhin. When I was a teenager, I went to games. Oleh Blokhin was our club’s leader and our idol. In terms of spirit, I always admired the determination of Franz Beckenbauer. And also, definitely, Andriy Shevchenko.
Sport opened many doors in life for me. It gave me some important qualities that help me every day: willpower, diligence, the need to follow a strict plan to reach your goal, coordinating the work of every member of your team and, very importantly, the will to win. You won’t achieve anything without it, in sport or life.
Boxing will always be in my heart. Sport will always be part of my life. Once or twice a week, I train at the boxing gym. It’s the best antidepressant or, rather, the best way to de-stress. It gives you bright ideas and a completely different view of life and what’s going on around us.
When we were little boys, we used to watch boxing fights. Every boy has his idol, his hero that he looks up to. Hosting the UEFA Champions League final will influence every boy and girl and encourage them to get into sport. Every sport reaches a peak of popularity when the stars appear. They attract people like magnets. Many boys got into boxing when the Klitschko brothers started producing results in the ring. A huge wave of kids got into football when Andriy Shevchenko began to perform his unmatchable feats. It’s very important for youngsters to have role models and to play sport. As Nelson Mandela said: “Sport has the power to change the world.” It can change the world for everyone who plays sports.
I learnt to play chess when I was a little boy. I never expected I’d have the opportunity to take on Garry Kasparov or Vladimir Kramnik. I can even hold my own: I managed to survive for 31 moves against Garry Kasparov. Of course, it’s very difficult against a great grandmaster, but it’s fantastic to have the chance to play such an interesting game. I am glad that I managed to pass it on to my children. I never boxed against my brother because we promised our mother, but we never promised her that we wouldn’t be opponents in chess. So, I often play chess with my younger brother and it’s not that easy against him. He is not only good at boxing. We win and lose against each other. It’s about 50-50.
Ukraine before 2012 and after are two different countries. UEFA EURO 2012 was a great catalyst for developing sport in Ukraine, but aside from the ultra-modern sporting arenas, we built new airports, we laid thousands of kilometres of new roads. Sport helped to develop infrastructure and has been the economic catalyst for the development of many areas not directly connected to it. We have the same expectations for the UEFA Champions League final.
Ukraine and Kyiv have traditionally been associated with the international football elite. The difficult current situation in our country has had an impact on our sporting fortunes. I hope that holding the Champions League final in Kyiv will provide the momentum needed to strengthen Ukrainian football and put Ukraine back among the world’s best football nations.
It's like winning the lottery. I was tremendously happy to learn – at first, I couldn’t believe it – that Kyiv had been chosen as the host city. The more visitors we get, the more people will realise what a beautiful city Kyiv is. The atmosphere during UEFA EURO 2012 was unbelievable. There were so many visitors in Kyiv, and they were all united by what was a festival of sport, a festival of football. Everything was organised at a high level. And we’re determined to raise the bar even higher. The city is looking forward to welcoming the fans. We hope they leave with plenty of great memories.