Over the last few years we have seen more and more sports people using their platform to talk politics. We famously saw Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for the American national anthem and we've also seen Colby Covington go the other way, with a pro-Trump stance. We know some fans want to keep sports and politics apart, and we do understand that, but the reality is that two are linked, and have long been linked. From people like Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, George Weah, Alexis Arguello, Irman Khan and Vitali Klitschko sports and politics are do go hand in hand.
Whether you agree with the views of the sports people or not is somewhat irrelevant, it's not going to change things and we will always see sports people show an interest in politics. With that in mind we are going to look at 7 boxers who have, in some way been linked to both politics and sport, in one way or another.
Note - This is not extensive list, a lot of other Asian fighters have involved themselves in both boxing and politics.
Masamori Tokuyama - One Korea
The political affiliation of Masamori Tokuyama is arguably more well known than his boxing career, despite the fact he was a 2-time world champion and managed 9 successful world title defenses.
Tokuyama, who fought 1994 and 2006, was a third generation Zainichi Korean who affiliated with North Korea for much of his boxing Korea and was often seen with the North Korean flag, or the One Korea flag. Unlike many Zainichi Korean's Tokuyama didn't really hide his heritage, and in fact it was used to sell a number of his bouts, such as his two contests with In Joo Cho. He not only fought as a North Korean but also used their national anthem as his ring walk tune and even defended the reported kidnappings of Japanese citizens by North Korea. He was regarded as a hero in North Korea, there was special stamps created in celebration of him and he managed to meet top North Korean officials.
The political views he had drew significant attention and saw him being banned from the USA. After his retirement however he renounced North Korea and became a South Korean citizen, making one of the biggest U-Turns in sport.
Tae San Kil and Heuk San Lee - Political refugee
You can't get much more political than a political refugee and we have a number of those involved in Korean boxing. These include Cameroonian born fighters Tae San Kil and Heuk San Lee, who were both born and raised in Cameroon and have since sought solace in South Korea, with both being given asylum status in their new home.
Both fighters left Cameroon having been in the military and abandoned the Cameroonian team during the 2015 World Military Games. Both cited persecution and abusive treatment as to why they left their team.
Kil, who was born Jean Durandal Etobil Etobil, revealed how his life was in Cameroon when he spoke to the Korea Herald and explained:
"The brutality, torture would torment me physically and mentally. My wage would often be withheld. I had to participate in daily training and maintain ‘the right position,’ even when I was sick,”
Lee, also known as Abdoulaye Assan, swore that he wouldn't return to Cameroon. It was thought that if either did they would have been arrested for deserting the military. The same military that had persecuted them when they were members.
Both failed in their first attempt at getting Asylum status, but thankfully were successful after submitting a petition to the Ministry of Justice, in 2017. Both have managed to carve out small but notable career in their new, adoptive, homeland.
Payao Poontarat - Politician
Thai great Payao Poontarat had a truly remarkable, and yet horribly tragic life, fitting a lot into his 49 years. In 1976 he won an Olympic bronze medal, becoming the first Thai to win an Olympic medal. Following his amateur success he would turn professional and win the WBC Super Flyweight title, before twice losing the Japanese star Jiro Watanabe.
Following his boxing career Poontarat got a role within the police, rising through the ranks there, before later turning his hand to politics, joining the Democratic Party in Thailand.
As a politician Poontarat struggled to begin with but in 2001 he was voted into the Thai House of Representatives, whilst running as a democratic candidate and looked set for a successful career in politics. Sadly any long term hope of his being a major politician ended early when he began suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, and in 2006 he passed away at the age of 49.
Takefumi Sakata - Politician
We stay with boxers who have become politicians as we talk about former world champion Takefumi Sakata, who has actually been in politics for around a decade now and has been elected 3 times now.
As a fighter Sakata fought from 1998 to 2010 and won the Japanese and WBA Flyweight titles, fighting the likes of Daiki Kameda, Denkaosan Kaovichit, Roberto Vasquez and Lorenzo Parra. He announced his retirement in January 2011 and just a few months later he was elected to the Inagi City Council. He has been part of that council ever since being re-elected in 2015 and 2019
As a sitting council member Sakata is an independent and has pushed for better education and stronger child care support among other things
Manny Pacquiao - Politician
We end this with the most obvious example of a boxer being involved in politics as finish with Filipino boxing icon and sitting senator Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao, a man who may one day become the leader of the Philippines.
As a boxer Pacquiao has become a national treasure for the Philippines, a multi-weight world champion and the inspiration to a generation of fighters. As a politician he has quickly risen through the ranks, after originally struggling to make a mark, and is now creating a new legacy in politics.
Pacquiao, like Poontarat, actually failed to get elected in his first attempt, losing in the 2007 to Darlene Antonino-Custodio, whilst running as a Liberal in South Cotabato's 1st district. In 2010 he got elected to the Filipino House of Representatives, whilst running under the People's Champ Movement. He would be re-elected 3 years later as part of the UNA, and has remained in office since.
Despite being in office Pacquiao has certainly shared some questionable political beliefs. They have included being against same sex marriage, and being a backer of Rodrigo Duterte war on drugs, which has pushed for capital punishment. A rather big turn around for a man who originally ran as a Liberal back in 2007.
Unlike Poontarat and Sakata we have seen Pacquiao continue to compete in the sport whilst also holding office, and he has had some notable success since becoming a senator.
And a fighter who has tried to avoid politics:
Hyun Mi Choi - Defector
We're back in Korea here with the very interesting case of Hyun Mi Choi. Unlike Tokuyama, who spoke about his allegiance to North Korea, Choi did the opposite, quite literally.
She was first scouted by the North Korean government, who tried to turn into an amateur star and a North Korean boxing hero. The plan had been to take her to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when there was talk of female boxing being the Beijing games. In late 2003/early 2004 Choi, and family, would abandon North Korea and move south of the border, defecting from the North to the South.
Unlike some in similar positions Choi has actually tried to distance herself from politics, stating that she wants to be known for boxing, rather than the defection. Despite that she has played a major role in proving that defectors can be a positive and her career in the ring is one of the few boxing highlights South Korea has had in recent years.
Choi is, unlike some on this list, linked to politics due to things outside of her control and sadly for her she will remain a figure in Korean political discussion, whether she wants to be, or not.
Thinking Out East
With this site being pretty successful so far we've decided to open up about our own views and start what could be considered effectively an editorial style opinion column dubbed "Thinking Out East" (T.O.E).