Dubai: Ivan Khodabakhsh was unveiled as the new CEO of the Ladies’ European Tour (LET) on the sidelines of the season-ending Omega Dubai Ladies Masters on Saturday. He replaces outgoing Alexandra Armas. In his former role as CEO of the World Boxing Series, the BBC implicated him in a cash-for-Olympic-medal scandal involving boxers from Azerbaijan during the London 2012 Olympic Games. Gulf News offered him his right to reply and addressed his new vocation to grow women’s golf.
How do you want to grow the ladies’ game?
I believe golf is a fantastic sport. The Ladies European Tour is doing a great job. The players are great. They are fantastic brand ambassadors, but let’s be quite clear; we are not at the same level of exposure as that of the men’s tour and there is no rational reason why there should be such a gap. So I think this is where we can really grow [the game]. We don’t necessarily want to grow the number of events, but growing the exposure of events and the value of the events [prize-money], that’s what we want to see. We can activate European and Asian companies in the same way [as the LPGA does]. There are a huge number of companies out there which can use our sport as a brand ambassador for their product. I think it’s a fantastic organisation and it has fantastic potential for growth. I believe from a commercial perspective we can see growth happening pretty fast because there’s already a great product in place.
Can Olympic inclusion grow the sport?
There are opportunities now with golf being an Olympic sport to activate much more support from the national authorities and the governing bodies that invest in sport. We have to explore that [route] and we have to see how we position the LET in there. This is part of the potential. The Olympic Games is a great platform to touch millions of people on TV. We have seen even with mature sports such as basketball, the moment NBA players joined the Games, it was a huge boost even for such a mature sport. Golf is mature too, and we can really expose it to more countries than it has been exposed to up to now.
Why did you get into sport’s governance?
It was truly my passion for sport that led me into business. I was a coach for many years and I worked in grassroots development. This was my motivation and drive for me to get into sports business and I made the transition to make sure sport generates enough money to help grassroots’ programmes. I think the LET has to develop itself in more regions globally, not just to raise the number of tournaments and the amount of prize-money. There has to be more to it than just that. That’s my true belief and passion for being in sport. Things like allegations happen, but there isn’t a CEO of any company that hasn’t faced similar situations.
How do you respond to the allegations against you?
They were completely ridiculous and utterly false. I provided the LET with all the proof. There was an internal investigation endorsed by the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) ethics commission. We have the results of the Olympics and you’ve seen the credibility of Newsnight recently. We did everything to clean up boxing, which you know has some [bad] elements in it. When you clean up things, you get certain push-backs. We tried to do our best to give boxing, which has for decades been victimised, a good future. If you look at the job I’ve done in the past, I’ve brought the sport forward to where it should be, not where it was. If you get dirt thrown at you, this is a problem.
Is it disappointing that this story still lingers?
It’s a reality of life. We are in business and it’s your right to ask. If there was any kind of merit to these allegations, then there could have been a debate. But this happens all the time in sport, especially sports with dubious elements in them. It’s not for me to tell journalists which stories to pick up. There was an investigation, it’s cleared me completely and there was an independent endorsement from the IOC ethics commission. If journalists don’t pick that up and it doesn’t show on the top of Google.com, then maybe I should have a conversation with Google.com.