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From pitch to parliament: how four leading footballers became parliamentarians

George Weah, Liberia

The Liberian footballer-turned-president was named African, European and World player of the year in 1995, becoming the first and only African player to win the latter two awards while representing his country internationally.

Weah began his career with a three-year semi-professional contract at Cameroonian club Tonnerre of Yaoundé, before signing with French first division club AS Monaco in 1987, winning the French Cup in 1991.

Renowned for his shooting and dribbling skills, Weah went on to play for Paris Saint-Germain, with whom he won the league title and reached the semi-finals of the 1995 European Champions League.

After Liberia’s President Charles Taylor was ousted in 2003, Weah returned to his native land as a goodwill ambassador for the UN, and went on to run for the presidency in 2005 and 2011, as a member of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) party. He ultimately lost to the Unity Party’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. In 2017, Weah’s CDC joined forces with two other parties for the presidential election to form the Coalition for Democratic Change. Weah gained 60% of the vote, and was inaugurated in January 2018, marking the first transfer of power between two democratically elected leaders in Liberia since 1944.

Oleg Blokhin, Ukraine

Kyivan native Blokhin is one of ‘the legends of Ukrainian football’, and holds the all-time top goalscorer title for both Dynamo Kyiv and the Soviet Union, having scored 266 and 42 times for these teams respectively.

Blokhin won eight Soviet league titles, five national cups and two European Cup Winners’ Cups, and competed for the USSR at the 1982 and 1986 FIFA World Cups. In 1975, he won the coveted Ballon d’Or as European footballer of the year.

Blokhin also had two stints as the manager of the Ukrainian national team after independence, seeing them through the 2006 FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro 2012.

But the world of politics beckoned for the winger-turned-manager long before he embarked on his managerial career. The striker was elected to the Verkhovna Rada twice, in 1998 and 2002, as an MP for the centre-left populist party Hromada. Astonishingly, he succeeded in juggling his political career and managing teams such as PAOK, AEK Athens, Ionikos and the Ukrainian national team, whom he led to their first major finals.

Kakha Kaladze, Georgia

A versatile player capable of playing three positions, Kaladze began his career as a striker at his local club, Lokomotiv Samtredia, before joining Dinamo Tbilisi in 1993 as a 16-year-old. A match in which he played for Georgia against Italy brought him to the attention of Dynamo Kyiv, where Kaladze transferred in 1998, and went on to win eight consecutive league titles.

The Georgian player went on to play for AC Milan and Genoa, and took part in his country’s qualifying campaigns for the 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cups, extraordinarily scoring two own goals during a qualifying match against Italy in the latter.

Kaladze joined the Georgian Dream-Democratic Georgia opposition party in 2012, and was elected to the Parliament of Georgia for the Samtredia constituency. He was then appointed as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Energy in the cabinet of Bidzina Ivanishvili in October of that year.

In 2017, Kaladze resigned as the Energy Minister to run in local elections to become Mayor of Tbilisi, winning 51% of the vote. He remains in the post to this day.

Pelé, Brazil

Named Player of the Century by FIFA, Pelé – real name Edson Arantes do Nascimento – averaged almost a goal a game throughout his 22-year career, and has won three World Cups, the only player to do so.

Pelé made his international debut against Argentina in 1957, and appeared in his first World Cup a year later as a 17-year-old. The Brazilian prodigy went on to score 77 goals in 92 games for Selecao, Brazil’s national team, while playing at club level for Santos and later for New York Cosmos, finally retiring in 1977.

Appointed a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador in 1994, Pelé was then made Brazil’s Extraordinary Minister of Sport the following year. The former footballer proposed legislation to reduce corruption in Brazilian politics, known as the “Pelé law”, which forces professional sports clubs to observe business law, and pay tax within two years. Article 45 of the law also makes clubs insure all their athletes, to cover personal and occupational accidents.

Team spirit

These might seem like surprising career changes, but when you consider what underpins both football and politics – passion, drive, commitment and team spirit – perhaps we should expect some of today’s World Cup stars to one day tackle a different kind of challenge.

In the lead-up to the next FIFA Women’s World Cup, in Australia in 2023, we hope to add some famous women footballers who have made the jump from pitch to parliament.

IPU Secretariat, Geneva