My Opinion

POLITICS: TACT AND FIELD

Written by Omair Alavi

Omair Alavi|Published July 15, 2018

A.H. Kardar and Z.A. Bhutto at the Gaddafi stadium

With the general elections in Pakistan around the corner, many in the country are gearing up for winning a seat in the parliament. There was a time when people preferred voting for those with an established political background but, with former cricketer Imran Khan’s entry into politics, they are taking those seriously as their potential candidates who have served their country in another field — sports. There have been many sportspersons around the world who have used their popularity to win a seat. Read on to find out which of them have done well in politics.

POLITICAL PITCH

The first sportsman to dabble in Pakistani politics was none other than the first captain of the Pakistan cricket team Abdul Hafeez Kardar. The highly successful cricket administrator, who won at least one Test match during his first series against all opponents, joined Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party in 1970 and won the election to become a member of the Punjab Assembly. From 1972 to 1977, he served as the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan (BCCP) before bowing out as an ambassador in the late 1970s.  

The second most prominent cricketer to enter politics was Sarfraz Nawaz, a veteran of 55 Tests and 45 One-Day Internationals (ODIs). He was also an elected member of the Punjab Assembly in 1985. He joined the MQM later though he didn’t have a great career as a politician.

And then there is Imran Khan, the man who brought the cricket World Cup to the nation in 1992. He won many trophies during his tenure as captain of the national side, including the Nehru Cup in India (1989), countless Sharjah Cups and the first and second Australasia Cup. Four years after leaving cricket, Imran founded his own political party, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), which went on to form the provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).

Politics and sport are two entirely different fields. But sometimes the lure of politics becomes quite irresistible for sportspersons, especially after their retirement. Eos takes a look at prominent players who took a leap from the field of sports to join the tricky world of politics

Imran Khan’s adversary during the 1980s and the ’90s Arjuna Ranatunga of Sri Lanka also dabbled in politics after retirement and became an important member of Chandrika Kumaratunga’s Sri Lanka Freedom Party after winning the parliamentary elections in 2001. He later changed parties due to a difference of opinion but stayed active in politics. He is currently serving as Minister of Highways, Ports and Shipping.

Ranatunga’s teammate Sanath Jayasuriya also followed suit, and after mesmerising fans with his powerful hitting, he now also serves his people as a minister who is considered highly influential in his native country.

Former Indian captain Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi (aka Tiger MAK) made his entry into politics twice — first during a protest against a constitutional amendment in India in 1971 and later in 1991 — but despite having a huge fan-following he failed to win the elections.

A veteran of 40 Tests and a regular opening partner of Sunil Gavaskar in the 1970s, Chetan Chauhan had better luck in the political arena as he was twice elected a member of parliament and is currently serving as minister for Youth and Sports in Uttar Pradesh, India.

Member of the 1983 World Cup winning squad Kirti Azad followed his father Bhagwat Jha Azad into politics and after winning Delhi’s Gole Market Assembly’s seat in 1993, he twice became a member of parliament from Darbhanga. He remains an active member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) despite being suspended for criticising his colleagues a couple of years back.

Azad was followed by Navjot Singh Sidhu, who was not only an explosive batsman from the 1980s and the ’90s but also one of the most controversial characters in Indian cricket. Sidhu joined the BJP in 2004 and won the first general election he contested from Amritsar. However, he had to resign a couple of years later after being found guilty of murder. He was sentenced to three years in prison for a crime that he committed in 1991. Sidhu returned to politics after acquiring a stay order from the Supreme Court of India and continued to be a part of the BJP till 2016. He formed a party with other sportsmen during the same year but joined the Indian National Congress in 2017 and was elected to the Punjab Legislative Assembly from Amritsar.

Sidhu’s captain during the ‘90s, the stylish Mohammad Azharuddin, had earlier joined the Congress in 2009 after being cleared of match-fixing charges, and won his seat from Moradabad while surprising his detractors and critics just like he used to do on the cricket field.

TURF AND PARLIAMENT

Chaudhry Akhtar Rasool was the captain of the triumphant 1982 Pakistan hockey World Cup team. He joined politics and contested the general elections of 1985 as an independent candidate. He not only won a seat but also became the Excise and Taxation Minister of Punjab. In 1988, he joined the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) and was rewarded with the Sports Ministry in Punjab for his allegiance to Nawaz Sharif. He won the elections in 1993 and 1998 and was considered an important member of Nawaz Sharif’s party before the latter was exiled, after which Rasool joined the Pakistan Muslim League (Q), becoming part of Musharraf’s regime and thus closing the chapter on his political career.

Another hockey Olympian Qasim Zia, who won the gold medal for Pakistan in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, also joined politics in the 1990s and was quite successful as a Pakistan People’s Party parliamentarian, getting elected as the leader of the opposition between 2002 and 2007.

Pakistan is not the only country where hockey Olympians and World Cup winners are treated with respect. Prominent Indian stars have also converted their illustrious careers on the hockey field into a successful one in politics. Aslam Sher Khan was influential in India’s only World Cup victory in 1975 at Kuala Lumpur. Later, after retirement, he served as an MP and a Union Minister for the Congress. He also had a short stint with the BJP before quitting in 1999.

KICK START

There has been nobody more famous than soccer player Romário de Souza Faria as a Brazilian politician, although Pelé had a stint as an Extraordinary Minister for Sports. The late footballer Sócrates, too, was quite active in politics without ever seeking office. But Romário was not only a popular sportsperson who won the FIFA World Cup for his country in 1994, he was also named FIFA Player of the Year in 1994. After retiring from soccer altogether in 2009 he embarked on a political journey and during the 2010 general elections won a seat to the Chamber of Deputies on the Brazilian Socialist Party ticket. He was later elected to the Brazilian Senate in 2014, winning with the most votes ever received by a candidate from Rio de Janeiro.

One of the top footballers in the world during the 1990s, Liberian footballer George Weah represented Paris Saint-Germain FC, AC Milan and Chelsea with distinction. FIFA named him World Player of the Year in 1995 and the same year he won the Ballon d’Or, becoming the only African player to win these awards. Widely regarded as one of the greatest African players of all time, he became involved in politics following his retirement from the game. And after repeated tries he finally became the president of Liberia in 2017, defeating the incumbent Vice President Joseph Boakai.

BOXING ROUNDS

And then there was Idi Amin, the Ugandan dictator who was also a national light heavyweight boxing champion in the 1950s before the lust for power took him away from sports.

Amin may have been the first boxer to step out from the ring into the world of politics but he wasn’t the last as five-time world champion in five different weight divisions Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines became involved in his country’s politics in 2007 and has been a congressman twice.

Ukraine’s Vitali Klitschko also joined politics after having one of the greatest careers of this century. His party won 40 seats during the 2012 elections and in 2014 he was elected mayor of Kyiv and is considered as one of the most influential people in Ukraine.

POLITICAL MUSCLE

He was a movie star before he became Governor of California. However, Arnold Schwarzenegger was better known as Mr Universe before he even became a movie star. The Terminator used his mammoth success in Hollywood to run for the office and was elected twice as governor — in 2003 and 2007. He has also hinted running for president, stating that he is the best bet to knock out the mighty Donald Trump from office.

Arnie’s co-star from Predator and The Running Man Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura was a world-renowned wrestler before he went on to become the 38th governor of Minnesota in 1998.

KEEPING TRACK

There have been many athletes with political careers around the world but none of them has been as successful at both as Sebastian Coe who clinched as many as four Olympic medals, including two golds, during his career as a track and field athlete. He was also instrumental in bringing the Olympic Games to London in 2012, and was the chairman of the organising committee for the 2012 Games. Before that, he served as a member of parliament during 1992 and 1997 and remains active in sports even today.

MIND GAMES

Whoever grew up in the 1980s and 1990s knew that Garry Kasparov had one of the greatest minds in the world. The Russian rose to prominence in 1985 when he became the World Chess champion at the age of 22 and topped the ranking from 1986 till his retirement in 2005. His record of most consecutive victories — 15 tournaments — is still unmatchable but he wasn’t that successful in politics. Despite repeated attempts to use his success as a sportsman to get elected to office, Kasparov failed big time and later became a Croatian citizen in 2014 while leaving Russia for good where he believed he was treated unjustly by the Putin administration.

The writer tweets @omair78

Published in Dawn, EOS, July 15th, 2018

About the author

Omair Alavi