x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Precedents for the 'Pac Man'

Manny Pacquiao is not the first famous sporting figure to have switched trades and gone into politics.

Manny Pacquiao will enter another tough arena. Jeff Haynes / Reuters
Manny Pacquiao will enter another tough arena. Jeff Haynes / Reuters

With Manny Pacquiao on the verge of a landslide victory in this week's national elections in the Philippines, the first man to win seven world titles in seven different weight divisions faces a battle of a different kind: swapping boxing conquests for congress. Pacquiao will be fighting for the people of the province of Sarangani once the election results are confirmed and it is not likely to be long before the ring master quits the sport he has championed so magnificently.

He is not, however, the first famous sporting figure to have switched trades and gone into politics. In every corner of the globe, stellar athletes have traded their rackets and bats, or unlaced their boots and skates, for briefcases. North American sports, in particular, are rife with examples of retired athletes running for office. After 14 years catching the pigskin as a wide receiver for the Seattle Seahawks, Steve Largent, an NFL Hall of Famer, was elected to the US House of Representatives as a Republican in 1994. Largent relinquished his seat to run for Oklahoma governor in 2002. He lost.

Frank Mahovlich, the nine-time NHL All-Star, never ran for political office, but was appointed to the Canadian Senate in 1998 by Jean Chretien, the former prime minister. It was the highest political reward ever for a Canadian athlete. The longest-serving athlete-turned-politician Stateside, however, is Bill Bradbury, the former New York Knicks player. After retiring at the end of the 1976-77 season, Bradley wasted little time entering the political fray and was elected to the US Senate in 1978, where he served for nearly two decades.

Bradley had his sights set on the US presidency in 2000, but eventually lost the Democratic nomination to Al Gore, the then vice-president Across the Atlantic, Sebastian Coe, England's double Olympic champion, retired from athletics in 1989 and was then elected as a Conservative Member of Parliament in the 1992 British election. That was only the start for Coe, who was named a government whip in 1997, before becoming the confidant and private secretary to William Hague, the then leader of the Conservative Party who was yesterday appointed Foreign Secretary. Coe, the former middle-distance runner, was also elevated to the House of Lords in 2000 and is the chairman of the London 2012 Olympics organising committee.

Moving east, and Imran Khan's philanthropic effort to establish a cancer hospital for Pakistan's poor gave him an entrance into politics. The former Pakistan captain clearly liked the taste and went on to form the opposition Tehriq-E-Insaaf (Movement of Justice Party) in 1997. Women are not immune to the political power bug either. Dawn Fraser, the Australian swimmer who broke 39 world records during a glorious career and was the first woman to break the one-minute barrier in the 100-metre freestyle, entered politics in 1988 when she was elected as an independent to represent Balmain in the New South Wales Parliament.

Football is a breeding ground for future political careers. Roman Pavlyuchenko, the Tottenham striker, Zico, a World Cup winner with Brazil, and George Weah, the former world player of the year, have had mixed experiences. Pavlyuchenko was elected to the regional council in his hometown of Stavropo, Russia, Zico was appointed Brazil's minister of sports while Weah was defeated in the Liberia presidential election in 2005.

The sporting arena also provides a ready-made theatre for politically minded athletes to express their personal convictions to a global audience. Muhammad Ali's stance during the Vietnam War brought both acclaim and hatred while baseball player Carlos Delgado's disgust at the Iraq war led to the player staging a dug-out sit-in during the playing of the US national anthem. Yet neither Ali nor Delgado went from being sports stars to politicians.

What sort of politician Pacquiao becomes remains to be seen. He is, however, not the first and will not be the last, to make the jump. Ultimately, Pacquiao will discover one home truth when he eventually takes office: in politics, the gloves are always off. @Email:emegson@thenational.ae