It is almost unfathomable that the country that gave the world some of its most prominent boxers, soccer players, pole vaulters , gymnasts, swimmers and tennis players would cut or misappropriate virtually all funding meant for youth sports programs, leaving the children the unwitting victims of corruption and cronyism. However this is exactly what is happening in today’s Ukraine.
Chances are you have seen the news coverage of violent protests ravaging Ukrainian cities, but long before the protesters took to the streets, many of the counties institutions, including state-sponsored children’s after-school sports programs became virtually extinct. Hard-hitting economic conditions forced many parents to leave in search of employment opportunities elsewhere, leaving the children to fend for themselves in towns ridden with crime, drugs and violence, offering no after-school activities and no social safety net of any kind.
George Kulya, a former five-time national boxing champ and a San Francisco Bay Area resident who hails from Ukraine decided to make it his fight. In his home town of Reni in western Ukraine, George has opened a non-profit sports school “The Olympic Foundation” for the underprivileged youth. The Sports school became a safe haven for over 300 disadvantaged kids. It boasts 7 professional trainers, a physician and an administrative staff. The school was opened overcoming numerous obstacles presented by the local corrupt authorities and has entered its third year of operation, producing six gold medalists at the local competition. The classes are free to the kids and expenses are paid by fundraising efforts of George and out of his own funds.
“It is a truly sad state of affairs” – says Kulya. “The town is abound with bars and drinking establishments, but we are the only place where kids can come to exercise. Many times we have written and invited the parents to come and watch the kids compete, but only a handful out of 300 ever showed up. Those kids are discarded by both the system and the parents. Our program is the only thing that keeps them motivated and off the streets”
As the Olympics Games are taking place, audiences worldwide are watching and cheering for men and women who have given the lives to the sport to make it more spectacular and entertaining while defending the honor of their home countries. Sport, in its essence is indeed a competition and a war-game. However, as George Kulya shows, it can also be an agent for charity and a conduit of good will. A man who gave his life to the sport is now using the sport to give life and hope to those who need it most. “You can blame the system all you want, but If everyone of us did just a small part to help, this world would be a gentler, happier place”- said the weathered boxer.