Suleyman Mikayilov has vowed to salvage AIBA’s perilous financial predicament and implement concrete reforms in his first 100 days in office that will help to restore the International Boxing Association’s battered reputation if he is elected as the next president.
The governing body’s debts were cited as a major concern when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) suspended AIBA in 2019, meaning the organisation will not be allowed to take charge of boxing at the Olympic Games next year in Tokyo.
However, the candidate for the AIBA presidency said he has reached an agreement with the international federation’s major creditor, Azerbaijani company Benkons, to write off a $10m (€8m) debt. Benkons is due a $1m payment from AIBA in January under the terms of an existing repayment deal, but Mikayilov has claimed that there is insufficient money in the organisation’s bank account.
The arrangement struck by Mikayilov is contingent on him winning the AIBA presidential election this Saturday, December 12. One of the pledges in his manifesto is to conduct “an aggressive global PR campaign” to boost the image of the governing body, with Benkons’ ongoing partnership set to support the recovery.
Mikayilov, who announced his candidacy in September, distributed a copy of a letter from Benkons director Hamid Hamidov to all AIBA’s national federations.
The letter stated that once “new reliable leadership, such as yours” had taken charge at AIBA, there would be the opportunity to clear all debts and enter into a new partnership with the governing body.
Hamidov added that Benkons has no trust in the current AIBA leadership and the company was in the process of filing a lawsuit to recover its funds, although the legal action has been paused pending the result of Saturday’s election.
Mikayilov stated in his letter to AIBA members: “I believe that this letter demonstrates that Benkons has full confidence in my commitment to reform AIBA for a new future.
“AIBA’s national federations now know that, if I am elected, I can write off the money owed to Benkons, which represents almost the total amount of our debts.”
Mikayilov added that he is the “best prepared candidate who has a realistic plan to immediately resolve all issues and bring AIBA back to an organisation respected by the global boxing family and boxers”, with the financial situation being especially pressing.
“Many people and the media have said that the total amount of AIBA debts is around CHF20m (€19m/$23m),” he said. “However, in reality, the total amount of debt is approximately $10m, which is mostly due to Benkons. If AIBA clears the Benkons debt, most of the AIBA debts will be cleared.”
Coming in from the cold
AIBA has been frozen out of next year’s Olympics in Tokyo, with the boxing competitions at the Games instead set to be organised by an IOC-appointed taskforce.
As a result, AIBA has been forced to rely heavily on hosting fees for its 2021 Global World Cup and 2021 World Boxing Championships to maintain day-to-day operations.
However, with the Global World Cup having been postponed until the end of 2021, AIBA has only received the first CHF1m instalment of a total of CHF5m, according to Mikayilov’s support team, with the first hosting fee instalment for the 2021 World Championships having not been received by AIBA at all.
“The IOC made it clear that it would not share its TV rights sales revenues with AIBA for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games,” Mikayilov said.
“This means that the earliest time AIBA could receive any fund from the IOC will be in November 2024 if the IOC lifts the current suspension. In addition, the IOC also reiterated the principles of using this fund only for the development of sport and athletes, not for the general operation of the organisation.
“With this in mind, removing the Benkons debt immediately after the election is vital and can be done based on this agreement between me and Benkons. This will ensure that AIBA will have the sufficient revenues to stabilise the headquarters office with staff, to carry out the reform process, to resume all courses for officials, to organise all necessary meetings and events, as well as to clear all remaining debts.
“Under present circumstances, we cannot afford to hide any facts related to the AIBA finances, which is the most crucial factor for the success of AIBA’s reform.”
In his letter to members, Mikayilov underlined his belief that the financial issues facing AIBA have reached a critical crossroads.
“I do not know how many of you understand the current state of AIBA finance,” he added. “Some candidates assume that AIBA has the funds to run all programmes. This is a total misunderstanding by them.
“Following the report received during the last virtual meeting of the AIBA Executive Committee on November 6, AIBA now has less than CHF1m in the bank, and the majority of this balance will soon be spent to clear urgent payables.”
The arrangement with Benkons represents just the first step of a multi-faceted approach outlined by Mikayilov to safeguard AIBA’s in the future.
A central pillar of Mikayilov’s manifesto – in which he promises to identify AIBA’s total debts through an independent audit and then clear them within 100 days of taking the helm – is the establishment of the United Boxing Alliance (UBA). The UBA would manage the governing body’s marketing programmes, alongside other responsibilities, including the development of women’s boxing.
By serving effectively as a foundation to support AIBA, the UBA would secure CHF25m from commercial partners from Azerbaijan and other European countries, providing “secure and transparent financial support for the development of boxing across all national federations”.
Nobel Oil Services, which operates primarily in Azerbaijan, the US, the UK, and Romania, has already pledged to become the first major sponsor of the UBA by injecting CHF3m per year for at least the first two years.
Negotiations are continuing with other global companies regarding “sponsorship, donations or investment”.
Mikayilov, speaking after a virtual press conference on December 9, said: “When AIBA was suspended by the IOC, a group of boxing lovers decided it was time for AIBA to be united and to fight hard to restore the trust that had been lost with the IOC.
“With my full support, they decided to establish an organisation to unite the global boxing family and assist AIBA, as a partner, both financially and politically. To be clear, only individual members will be able to sign up to UBA, not national federations. The UBA has a specific role and will work to support AIBA.
“With AIBA’s current image and reputation, marketing deals are virtually impossible. AIBA at present has only three members of staff and cannot use its bank accounts in a normal manner.
“The UBA, as a new organisation based in Switzerland, will provide PR and marketing services on behalf of AIBA in return for guaranteed income. This will allow AIBA to focus on governance reforms which are now urgent.”
Additionally, in Mikayilov’s manifesto, AIBA’s Independent Audit System would be strengthened, while a Boxing Integrity Unit would also be created to handle issues such as doping and corruption, all with the aim of winning back the confidence of the IOC ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
Former UK Sports Minister Richard Caborn, who has been acting as an adviser to Mikayilov, joined the AIBA presidential candidate at the virtual press conference on December 9 to issue a stark warning about the state of the governing body’s finances, but also offer hope about the future.
“The programme for the first 100 days after the election would be to create a new structure for gaining entrance back into the Olympic family and address in a practical and evidence-based way the financial problems facing AIBA that could wreck it if it is not dealt with in the near future,” Caborn said.
“We believe the manifesto is best-in-class with the creation of the Boxing Integrity Unit and the UBA, which will act as a foundation effectively. We think this structure is very important as it has been adopted by many governing bodies and has been shown to give confidence to the IOC.”
Mikayilov, speaking alongside Caborn, concluded: “The next AIBA president must tackle a huge and difficult burden: the financial issue.
“AIBA’s leadership has never tried to find practical ways to solve the issue, and now there is no time to waste. As a former boxer and someone who is committed to good governance, I am the only candidate who has the capacity to solve AIBA’s financial problems.
“We will keep the IOC and the ASOIF, the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations, fully informed, and we will show them that we are implementing reforms – not just talking about them.”