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11 sporting heroes who took the plunge into politics

Speed News Desk | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 4:52 IST

Sports and politics tend to be a dangerous mix. Yet, the two seem to be inseparable from each other. While many sporting rivalries across the world have been borne out of the conflicting brands of regional/identity politics, sports has also had a major say in world politics at times.

Over the years, many top sports persons across the world have cashed in on their popularity and taken the plunge into politics. Here is a look at eleven such sporting heroes who have been active in politics in recent years.

Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore

Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore. Photo: Getty Images

India's sole medal winner at the 2004 Athens Olympics, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2013, having taken a premature retirement from the Indian Army, whom he had served for two decades.

The former ace shooter contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from the Jaipur Rural constituency, and comfortably won his seat. Rathore is currently the Minister of State for Ministry of Information and Broadcasting under the current Central government.

Prasun Banerjee

Prasun Banerjee. Photo: Getty Images

Widely regarded as one of India's greatest ever midfielders, Prasun Banerjee enjoys a legendary status among the fans of Mohun Bagan, the club he went on to captain during his peak footballing years. Younger brother of P K Banerjee, another legendary footballer, Prasun Banerjee also captained the Indian national team for a few years.

In 2013, he won the bypoll in the Howrah Sadar Parliamentary constituency on a Trinamool Congress ticket. A year later, he retained his seat in the Lok Sabha as his party bagged 34 of the 42 seats in West Bengal.

Mohammad Azharuddin

Mohammad Azharuddin. Photo: Getty Images

The former captain of the Indian cricket team joined the Indian National Congress in 2009, and contested the Lok Sabha elections from Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh. Known for his graceful batting style during his playing career, Azharuddin won his first ever election in 2009 to take his place in the Lok Sabha.

Five years later, he was, however, unable to retain his place after losing from the Tonk-Sawai Madhopur constituency in Rajasthan to a candidate from BJP. Azharduddin played in 99 Test matches and 334 ODI games in his career, before being banned in 2000 following a match-fixing scandal.

Kirti Azad

Kirti Azad. Photo: Getty Images

A former Indian international cricketer, the highest point of Kirti Azad's career came in 1983, when he played an important part in the country's 1983 World Cup triumph. In the semi-final against England, Azad's stellar performance with the ball helped India reach the final.

Born to a political family [his father was the Chief Minister of Bihar for a year], Kirti Azad made his foray into politics in the early 90s. He was part of the Delhi Assembly from 1993 to 1998, and later went on to win from the Darbhanga Lok Sabha constituency on a BJP ticket.

Jyotirmoyee Sikdar

Jyotirmoyee Sikdar. Photo: Getty Images

One of India's best ever middle-distance runners, Jyotirmoyee Sikdar won the gold medal in the 800 metre category at the 1995 Asian Athletics Championships. Three years later, she won the gold medals in the 800 metre and 1500 metre events at the Asian Games n Bangkok. Her phenomenal performances were rewarded with the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award in 1999.

A few years after retiring from the sport, Sikdar joined the Communist Party of India (Marxist), and won a seat in the Lok Sabha from the Krishnanagar constituency in West Bengal. She, however, failed to retain her seat in the 2009 general elections.

Navjot Singh Sidhu

Navjot Singh Sidhu. Photo: Getty Images

A reliable middle-order batsman during his heydays, Navjot Singh Sidhu played in 51 Tests and 136 ODIs, scoring a total of 7615 runs in both formats. Following his retirement from cricket, Sidhu joined the Bharatiya Janata Party, and won a seat in the Lok Sabha from the Amritsar constituency.

After resigning from his seat due to a pending court case, Sidhu came back to win the by-poll by a handsome margin. In 2009, he retained his seat after defeating Congress' Om Prakash Soni by 6858 votes. He, however, decided not to contest the 2014 elections after the party decided against giving him a ticket from Amritsar.

Imran Khan

Imran Khan. Photo: Getty Images

One of Pakistan's greatest ever cricketers, Imran Khan was the country's most successful captain. In 1992, he led the Greens to a famous World Cup triumph, beating England in the final. Four years later, he took the plunge into politics, founding the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party.

Since then, Khan has emerged as one of the most prominent political leaders in Pakistan. In the 2013 general elections, his party secured a total of 35 seats in the Parliament. Khan has himself been elected twice, in 2002 and in 2013, and is now one of the main opposition faces in the Pakistani Parliament.

Marat Safin

Marat Safin. Photo: Getty Images

A two-time Grand Slam champion, Marat Safin was one of the best players in the international tennis circuit in the early years of the millennium. A few years after his retirement, Marat Safin joined the Vladimir Putin-led United Russia party, and was elected to the Russian Parliament in 2011 from the Nizhny Novograd constituency.

Known for his hard-hitting ability and his emotional outbursts on the court, Safin has also been in the news for his political activities. In 2012, he voted in support of the controversial legislation in the Russian Parliament banning the adoption of Russian orphans by United States citizens.

Vitali Klitschko

Vitali Klitschko. Photo: Getty Images

One of the world's best professional boxers of his era, Vitali Klitschko knocked out 41 of his 47 opponents in the ring. The only two losses in his career came after injuries during the fights, both of which he had been leading at the time of the injuries.

In 2005, he entered into national politics in Ukraine, and over the years, emerged as a powerful political leader. He was one of the prominent figures in the 2013-14 Euromaidan protests, and after a surge in his popularity, even considered running for the Ukrainian presidency, although it eventually didn't come to fruition. In 2014, he was elected as the Mayor of Kiev.

Manny Pacquiao

Manny Pacquiao. Photo: Getty Images

Named as the "Fighter of the Decade" for the 2000s by the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA), World Boxing Council (WBC) and World Boxing Organization (WBO), Manny Pacquiao is widely regarded as one of the greatest professional boxers of all time.

He entered politics in 2007, when he contested the polls for a seat in the Philippine House of Representatives. Pacquiao, however, lost out to a candidate from a rival party. In 2010, he once again contested the elections, and was successful in his attempt from the province of Sarangani. Two years later, he was elected to the House of Representatives for a second time.

George Weah

George Weah. Photo: Getty Images

One of the greatest African footballers, George Weah was named in the FIFA list of 100 greatest living players in 2004. After an almost two-decade long professional football career, which saw him play at Monaco, PSG, AC Milan and other European giants, Weah returned to Liberia to contest in the country's presidential elections in 2005.

After narrowly losing out on the Liberian presidency to his rival Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Weah continued to be active in national politics. In 2011, he was chosen by Congress for Democratic Change as the candidate for the vice-preseidential post. Three years later, George Weah was elected to the Senate from the Montserrado County constituency.

First published: 23 September 2015, 2:42 IST