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Former heavyweight boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko has spoken out against doping in professional sport. In a DW interview, the Ukrainian also discussed Ukrainian-Russian relations and the dangers of stereotyping.
DW: Wladimir Klitschko, when you retired last year and were asked about a potential comeback, you said: "Never say never." Are you planning to re-enter the ring any time soon?
Wladimir Klitschko: Well, I was right with that quote! You never say never. Things can change. People often switch careers during their lifetimes. Look at Arnold Schwarzenegger: he was an athlete, then an actor, then a politician, than a businessman, and now he's involved in taking care of the planet. Maybe if I feel the time is right to help a certain charity, I'll get back in the ring.
DW: But not professionally?
WK: I had great times in the 27 years I spent in the sport. I learned a lot and I traveled a lot, which was my goal when I first started boxing. I have achieved what I never dreamed of; I've done and experienced things that I had never even thought about. I've learned that when some doors close, others open. It's all life experience and sport really is amazing. I would quote Nelson Mandela: "Sport has the power to change the world because it's a global thing."
DW: You're now building a career after a career and trying to change the world. What are you up to right now?
WK: I'm speaking to you right now in the offices of the Klitschko Foundation in Kiev, which is now in its 15th year. Over half-a-million kids have been through the project in the past 15 years. Our core message is sport and education; two things that everybody understands.
I feel like I'm doing something good for kids, for the future. Am I philanthropist in a certain way? Perhaps. I've also been lecturing at the University of Saint Gallen [in Switzerland]. I'm an enabler. I enable people to do things. And I really do it with passion.
DW: You've been running your university course in Saint Gallen since 2016. What is the main focus of it?
WK: We all have problems in life. All of us. And as soon as we hear this word "problem" it kind of freezes us. We're always facing challenges because the world has got faster. The world has got global and has digitalized rapidly and there are a lot of complications. There's a lot of news, there's a lot of fake news. So we need to choose which is right and which is wrong. We need to know how to act and what to do when we face these challenges. My course is about "Challenge management" and is based on a method that I relied on for 27 years both inside and outside of the ring.
DW: There is a commonly held belief that athletes, and boxers are no exception, are not really smart. Would you like to break this stereotype?
WK: That's exactly the word: "stereotype". All journalists can be bought. All politicians are liars. All athletes are dumb. Female tennis players are all lesbians and male singers are all homosexual. They're all stereotypes. People think in boxes. That's how they order it.
DW: You also wrote a book called "Challenge Management" in which you argue that boxing in Germany had a bad reputation when you started your professional career. Is corruption an issue in German boxing?
WK: Boxing is a popular sport with subsidiary bodies everywhere in every country. When you divide any sport or anything in society, you can easily conquer it. Which is why I am for greater centralization in boxing – and greater digitization too.
If you digitize sport, you get more transparency. Then there's less bureaucracy and less corruption. In boxing, for example, I believe that fans should be able to vote and be one of the judges. As long as we have so many managers, promoters and broadcasters, there's going to be politics in boxing because they all have their own interests, and they're not the interests of the athletes and the fans.
Not everything is bad in boxing but there are certainly improvements to be made, and I strongly believe that challenge management will help also boxing to improve and become more self sufficient.
DW: What do you think about the recent doping scandals?
WK: Well, there is a lot of smoke and obviously the fire is there. When you see it so constantly and on such a huge scale, systematically, it's definitely betraying the philosophy of sport.
Sport is about competing against each other and may the best man win. Athlete to an athlete, boxing is one of the most honest sports because there are no teams. OK, the fighters have their teams but they're outside of the ring. Inside the ring, it's just two gentlemen testing their abilities against each other and the one who fights better will eliminate his opponent and win. But if you've doped and I've not, then it's basically cheating. And you're cheating your fans.
DW: When it comes to state-sponsored doping, are states simply interested in promoting their country?
WK: Yes, absolutely. It's always a competition. Who is going to get in the top five or ten at the Olympic Games? Who is going to win the most medals? In some sports, it's simply about running faster, so if you dope, you'll win. But in boxing, it's about eliminating the other person physically. There have been deaths in boxing throughout history and if that were to happen because one fighter has doped, there are no excuses.
DW: Do you think that recent revelations could help eliminate doping in professional sport?
WK: Obviously. World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) has taken millions of samples down the years, collecting and freezing them and always improving their system. It's important that all athletes are tested.
DW: In a month's time, Russia is hosting the World Cup. Do you think that Russia's political leadership is using big sporting events as political tools?
WK: Yes, absolutely.
DW: Ukrainian-Russian relations have changed for the worse since the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Have you ever had any arguments with your fellow sportsmen in Russia? How this situation affected you?
WK: There are a lot of challenges in life. As for the current situation, it's not between sportsmen; it is just with Russia and Ukraine. But as the consequence of this disagreement, human lives are being lost daily and there are foreign soldiers and equipment in the country. As for the athletes, it is sad but I wouldn't blame the entire country. "They're bad. Russians are bad." That is not true. It's not true of Ukrainians either.
I just want to say that I'm an optimist. I really have a hope that the situation between Russia and Ukraine will be solved eventually. And it will be.
DW: You often speak about your elder brother, Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kiev. What is your assessment? Do you support your brother in his commitment to Ukrainian politics?
WK: I've been supporting my brother for the past 42 years. He's a great guy. And he's facing challenges that I don't think anybody else could handle. He wasn't educated or trained to be a politician; he's been learning by doing. As I said, we mustn't think in boxes or put people into boxes.
He's facing challenges which are very marginal and nuanced. Politics often doesn't have rules and problems have to be solved by working in between the lines. It's not like in boxing where the worst that can happen is a bloody nose or a black eye. It can be much worse in politics.
So it's something that's really challenging and I know it's not always easy for him, and he knows that even he can do better. But I think so far he's been open minded.
Wladimir Klitschko has held WBA, IBF and WBO world heavyweight boxing titles, won Olympic gold for Ukraine in 1996 and dominated the sport for almost a decade, along with his brother Vitali. He retired in 2017, shortly after a defeat to British fighter Anthony Joshua. This interview was conducted by DW's Zhanna Nemtsova.