On July 28, exactly three months ahead of the Oct. 28 parliamentary election, Ukrainian football star Andriy Shevchenko announced that he was retiring from sports and going into politics.
Many of Shevchenko's Ukrainian fans were disappointed, to say the least. Not so much because of his decision to become a politician: after all, it is common for celebrities to endorse various political forces and to get involved in politics in other ways, for reasons that very few people in Ukraine regard as altruistic anymore. In Shevchenko's case, the problem was more with the party he chose to represent in the upcoming election.
He did not announce right away which political force he was joining, however, and his fans, potential voters and even some Ukrainian politicians spent the next 24 hours or so making guesses.
On Facebook, a poll [ru] was set up to determine the netizens’ expectations regarding Shevchenko's political preferences. Not many took part in this vote, but the predictions of those who did reflected well enough the general confusion that the football star's surprise announcement had caused. The majority of the respondents (250 votes) thought that the ruling Party of Regions was the likeliest choice for this otherwise highly esteemed athlete; heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko‘s Udar Party (“Strike”) came in second, with 177 votes; 40 people saw Shevchenko as part of Natalia Korolevska‘s Ukrayina – Vpered! Party (“Ukraine – Forward!”), which had been expelled from Yulia Tymoshenko's Bloc (BYuT) in March 2012; and just 17 respondents expected Shevchenko to join the United Opposition, which currently includes members of Tymoshenko‘s Batkivshchyna Party (“Fatherland”), as well as a number of politicians from other political forces (e.g., Arseniy Yatseniuk, Anatoliy Hrytsenko and Viacheslav Kyrylenko).
On Twitter, MP Andriy Shevchenko (@ashevch; BYuT) cheered [uk] his famous namesake's announcement:
The more Shevchenkos there are in politics, the better :) […]
Then he made his prediction [uk] – and followed it up with a cautious reminder of the football star's past political involvement:
Shevchenko ([football]) will join [Vitaly] Klitschko. The most important thing is for him not to campaign for [President Viktor Yanukovych], the way he did in 2004 :) I really like my namesake and wish him to find himself.
Shevchenko the MP proved wrong about Shevchenko the football star's choice, and so did many others. Natalia Korolevska's “Ukraine – Forward!” turned out to be the winner.
Like Shevchenko the football star, Korolevska favored Yanukovych [ru] over Viktor Yushchenko during the contested 2004 presidential election, which resulted in mass protests all over Ukraine, known as the Orange Revolution. But while Shevchenko was appointed Yushchenko's advisor in 2005, Korolevska became an MP on BYuT's ticket, first in 2006, and then again in 2007. This alliance collapsed in March 2012, when Korolevska got expelled from BYuT.
(On a different note, Korolevska's brother, Konstantin Korolevsky [ru], used to be the First Deputy Head of the Department of Urban Construction Policy, Development and Reconstruction of the city of Moscow, Russia; after the 2010 resignation of his boss, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, Korolevsky became the Deputy Minister for Regional Development in Vladimir Putin‘s government.)
In her current political reincarnation, Korolevska is viewed by many not as an independent actor, but as part of the ruling regime's pricey political “project” – a kind of a trap set up to draw a significant number of voters away from the opposition.
Thus, it is not surprising that many of Shevchenko's domestic fans reacted with bitterness to his decision to run as No.2 on Korolevska's party list.
On the FC Dynamo Kyiv‘s fan portal, a news item [ru] announcing Shevchenko's alliance with Korolevska generated over 800 comments. Below is one of them, by user DK300:
This party [Ukraine – Forward!] is not political, it is a purely technical party. It was created for a specific election with a specific goal. A certain amount of money was allotted for this, and this amount will be distributed between these first [5-20 candidates]. It has no future whatsoever, neither on the national level, nor on the level of a village, and everyone joining it understands this. […]
LJ user frankensstein shared his thoughts [ru] on the Shevchenko situation on his blog:
Personally, I don't see anything strange in the fact that Andrey Shevchenko has joined Korolevska's party. By the standards of professional football, in which Shevchenko has [spent] his whole life, he has just transferred to another club that offered him a better contract, that's it. To transfer from [FC Barcelona] to [Real Madrid C.F.] would have been a lot meaner, I guess.
What I find strange is […] that in our country, it turns out, [Shevchenko] was, for some reason, considered a moral authority, and everyone got terribly upset because of his sudden friendship with a dubious political force.
Excuse me, but why? A football star is nothing but a football star – definitely not a social leader. To vote for a tiny rotten party only because a cool football player will be playing for it from now on – it doesn't make sense, because, for one thing, the parliament isn't a football field, and Shevchenko will never repeat his [four goals in one game, Fenerbahçe S.K. vs. A.C. Milan, in 2005].
In the comments section, Vladimir Perevoznik wrote [ru]:
[…] Shevchenko could have gone to [the United States], a country where life is comfortable. He would've been getting a million [US dollars] a month there. But he chose politics […]. Which means that to be an MP is more profitable than to be a top football player. That's the point.
On Korolevska's official Facebook Page (19,120 ‘likes’), the “acquisition” of Shevchenko was announced through a photo post with this caption [ru]:
Andrey Shevchenko stands shoulder to shoulder with our team, the team of a new generation of politicians!
The reactions were varied; below is a small selection.
Yuri Didyk [uk]:
Only a person who is a citizen of Ukraine and has also lived on the territory of Ukraine for the past five years can become [an MP]. [Shevchenko] has lived [in Ukraine] for only a few years. […]
Viktor Yanchenko [uk]:
Andriy has found his team after all and signed a nice 5-year contract!!!
Vasyl Sokyrko [uk]:
Sports and politics should never be mixed! It's a big mistake to get the great athletes involved. Do not hide the corrupt, old, inefficient political robots behind the legendary football player's back – and don't brainwash the people! […]
Valery Dyadyura [ru]:
The more money a person has, the easier it is to buy him.
Petr Galat [ru]:
There's only a salary in football, while the real money is in politics.
Boris Lukin [ru]:
I'd like to believe that changes for the better are possible… People like Shevchenko, a modern example for Ukrainians, give hope for the emergence of new, decent politicians… In any case, great people do not necessarily do great in everything, but Shevchenko will always remain our country's pride!
On Shevchenko's Facebook fan page (32,353 ‘likes’), the announcement [en] of the football player's career switch was brief:
Game over :(
There, the reaction were varied as well.
Tim Troubled Hennum [en]:
you had a good run buddy, good luck with your political career ;) i would vote for you if you were a politician in norway :D
Taras K Oleksyk [en]:
From a great player to a bad politician? Sheva, you have enough money to stay away from the business of politics, dont mess with virtual projects, stay with the clean game, please.
Michal Frýba [en]:
Thanks for every goal, good luck, you are very honest person, you can do good things for your country….!!!!!
On Twitter, Oleksandr Sivtsov (@10Sascha) wrote this [ru] to the current manager of FC Dynamo Kyiv, Yuri Semin:
Tell me, are you upset that [Shevchenko] has retired from football??????
And Semin (@Yuri_Semin) replied [ru]:
Of course, I am sorry about it, because Shevchenko is still an excellent football player. But it was his choice, and I wasn't going to be in his way.