After weeks of conflict, more than 90 percent of 133 nations voted in favor of a new constitution for the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) at a congress in Doha. Weightlifters now look to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) with hopes of saving their sport from exclusion from the Olympic program.
It was probably the most important meeting in the history of weightlifting. Last Sunday, as well as Monday, IWF delegates met to approve reforms aimed at securing the future of weightlifting in the Olympic Games program.
The IOC around President Thomas Bach had made it clear that something would have to change fundamentally at the IWF for weightlifting to remain part of the Olympic program. Sarah Davies, the British chairwoman of the IWF Athletes’ Commission, called for the entire board of the International Weightlifting Federation to resign after a face-to-face meeting with Bach, otherwise, the Olympic future was doomed. Sport belongs to its athletes and not to those who govern it, he said.
Davies accused individual IWF board members of being involved in state-sponsored doping ahead of the convention. But she not only criticized the board members of the “old guard,” many of them come from “doping countries,” she also called for the resignation of all members of the Executive Board: “The other members of the Executive Board must also resign for the good of the sport if the IOC demands it.”
Davies denounces IWF board
In a letter to the IWF, the IOC, and all male and female athletes, she openly denounces the board of the International Weightlifting Federation.
“Zhanat Tussupbekov, vice president of the IWF, is from Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan has been a hotbed of doping violations for years, including the very prominent case of Ilya Ilyin. Jose Quinones, also vice president, is from Peru. Peru has not been involved in doping scandals, but Mr. Quinones was banned by his own country for corruption and mismanagement. Birenda Prasad Baishya, a member of the Executive Committee, is from India. India’s number of athletes was cut at the Tokyo Olympics for doping. Maxim Agapitov, a member of the Executive Committee, is from Russia. Russia has long been a bastion of doping, including a scandal that rocked the entire sports world at the Sochi Olympics. Shakhrillo Makhmudov, a member of the Executive Committee, is from Uzbekistan, a country that, like India, competed with a smaller number of lifters in Tokyo because of doping violations.”
New statutes provide for changes
The words of warning seem to have been received. The warring factions of the IWF largely put aside their differences at a congress in Doha. The new statutes now give male and female athletes a significant say in how the sport of weightlifting is run, supports gender equality and independent oversight.
Another main topic of the Congress, on which the IOC placed a special emphasis, was the eligibility of Executive Board members. But the reform, which sought to tighten electoral criteria by imposing an age limit on candidates, failed by a single vote. However, another important change proposed by British Weightlifting (BWL) found its way into the statutes. This states that candidates who are not supported by their own national association may not be elected to the IWF’s Executive Board. This is likely to prevent, for example, British IWF Interim President Mike Irani from running for re-election.
Furthermore, male and female athletes will have three seats on the IWF board according to the new statutes; previously, they had held none. And at least 30 percent of elected positions will now be filled by women, and ethics issues will be reviewed independently of the IWF board – further steps that the IOC will welcome.
Another point in the new statutes states that national federations with a high number of doping cases may not send representatives to the board with immediate effect. On the current IWF board, seven members are from nations that have been banned or had their athlete quotas reduced for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for multiple doping violations.
A step in the right direction
Phil Andrews, CEO of USA Weightlifting, welcomed the outcome from the Congress in Doha, calling it the “biggest step in the history of the sport.” He continued, “Our community has adopted a constitution that includes leading athlete representation, gender equality, and exceptionally strict anti-doping criteria and external eligibility controls. Now we need to recover as a community and focus on the way forward – the way to Paris 2024.”
The IOC Executive Board, which has the power to exclude weightlifting from the Paris 2024 Games, meets in a week on Wednesday, Sept. 8 – nine days after the IWF Congress in Doha, Qatar. It remains to be seen if the new constitution will be enough to secure the Olympic future of weightlifting, as a date for the IWF elective congress has not yet been set. However, it will probably take place in the last weeks of this year.