Both payers and politicians have mass appeal. The very best on the court, green turf or pitch, athletic or other tracks, in the ring and swimming pool are iconic, so are the great politicians who lead to emancipate nations or to prosperity. Nations walk tall on the extraordinary feats achieved by both. But the similarity ends here.
While players and athletes concentrate on honing their sports skill single-mindedly, politicians have to weather intrigues, strategies and even conspiracies and plots to undermine or dethrone them. It is not a clean world, by any standard. So, athletes and sports personalities of the top grade usually maintain their distance from politics by miles.
Yet there are a few who think, they have enough fuel reserved, after their retirement from sports, in their tank to take the fight to politicians who mire politics with corruption and avarice. So far, footballers of repute have joined the bandwagon in the greatest number. George Tawlon Manneh Oppong Ousman Weah known as George Weah leads the band by becoming the president of Liberia. A FIFA World Player of the Year and Ballon d'Or winner in 1995, his telltale rise from rags to riches could have been enough to carve a niche for him in African history. No wonder, he was declared the African Player of the Century. On his third attempt, he was elected president of his country in January last year. Immediately after he had been sworn in, the footballer-turned president announced a 25 per cent cut on his own salary. It was apparently to teach a lesson to ministers who were busy looking after raising their salary and perks.
Others great footballers including Pele and Romario also served as ministers or members of parliament. Only Kakha Kaladze of Georgia went a step further by becoming the Deputy Prime Minister and also Minister for Energy. But none has been able to rival Victor Mihaly Orban, a football manager, who has risen to assume the premiership of Hungary. To his credit, Orban is currently enjoying his second stint with the top Hungarian post.
The latest to grace the top post in a country is Imran Khan. The imperious leader on the cricket field known for his flamboyant character makes it to the cherished goal after entering politics two decades ago. In fact, he is the first cricketer ever to have taken the post of the head of government anywhere in the world. Sachin Tendulkar, the Indian batting maestro, was offered an honorary parliamentary seat which he hardly attended. Novojit Singh Sidhu, however, became an elected member of the Lok Sabha twice but quit and was elected to Punjab Legislative Assembly before becoming a minister of the Punjab state government.
So Imran Khan has the distinction of leading, on and off the field, his nation -perhaps the most problematic one anywhere in terms of politics. His nation and others in South Asia in particular will be waiting with bated breath how he fares in politics of his country. Fraught with gravest risks, politics demands extraordinary capacity to steer clear of the string-pullers there. He is likely to discover that the political pitch he has ventured to command is completely different from the green pitch where he was the lord of all he surveyed. But he is a man of strong will and perseverance. After repeated failures he stuck to politics and now emerges victorious in election. Can he deliver the goods? It is too early to know what kind of a premier he will make. But about one thing there is no doubt that he will have to make use of the last reserve of his political acumen to be equal to the challenge.
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