Event and format reforms on hold as weightlifting battles doping problem
By Jonathan Rest at SportAccord in Bangkok
Plans to introduce new events and formats to the International Weightlifting Federation calendar have been put on ice while the sport fights to retain its place on the Olympic Games programme over historical anti-doping violations, Sportcal has learned.
A year ago, the IWF struck a four-year deal with Lagardère Sports for the international sports marketing agency to market the media rights to its World Championships.
The deal marked the first time the IWF has tasked an agency with marketing international media rights to its World Championships, having previously handed commercial control and responsibility to the organising committee of each individual edition.
As part of the contract, the agency has been working as a consultant to the federation over the last year to refresh the look and feel of the sport, making it more appealing to broadcasters.
The work is being undertaken by the IWF sport programme commission. However, Sportcal understands that plans to propose recommendations to the IWF executive board this year look likely to have been shelved, with the governing body’s focus being placed entirely on its clean sport commission, following an International Olympic Committee decision last year to put the IWF on watch that weightlifting could lose its place on the Olympic programme at Paris 2024 because of its doping problems.
Attila Adamfi, the IWF’s director general, told Sportcal: “One of the objectives of the sport programme commission, while respecting the traditional Olympic weightlifting, is to widen our portfolio by creating new, innovative disciplines and events… mainly something to be created for the benefits of media.
“Weightlifting is almost in every multi-sport games and there are so many possibilities to try new things, whether it is for the Youth Olympic Games or Commonwealth Games, or whatever.
“But, obviously, right now we are prioritising our focus on more important issues.”
Some of the sports programme reforms being discussed include the introduction of mixed gender team events, 1-on-1 competitions and opportunities for youth and senior athletes.
The IWF has not ruled out the introduction of a franchise-style league in the future, while a “rebooted” Grand Prix series of events culminating in a Grand Final is considered an immediate aim.
Adamfi told Sportcal that “everything is on the table,” adding: “We are going through the concepts and working on the visuals. Everything is right now under technical study to assess the feasibilities and costs associated with launching such a huge project.
“We are working closely with TV because we want it to be a project that we will thrill large audiences.”
The IWF looks set to hear at the IOC executive board meeting in July whether the work conducted by its clean sport commission has been enough to get the sport off the watchlist.
The federation’s new anti-doping policy was introduced on 15 April, with strict sanctions having been placed on the worst offending nations.
At least five countries, including Russia and four other former Soviet states, are being restricted to just two weightlifters, one male and one female, each at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
A further nine countries, at least, including India, will be restricted to four weightlifters each, two men and two women.
Those already restricted to two each, on the basis that their weightlifters committed over 20 doping offences between 2008 and 2020, are: Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Belarus.
Those with four each, having committed between 10 and 19 offences over the period, include Bulgaria, Iran and India.
Countries with fewer than 10 offences over the period will have eight places each, divided equally between men and women.
Weightlifting’s overall quota of athletes had already been reduced by 64, including the elimination of an entire men’s weight class to create greater gender equality, at Tokyo 2020.
Last October, the IWF suspended nine national federations for 12 months over their doping records: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkey and Ukraine.
Adamfi said: “That showed our brave approach, that we are not afraid of banning the biggest countries. Just imagine a football World Cup without Brazil, Germany and Argentina.”
However, he said the restriction on the number of athletes for Tokyo 2020 “is not a punishment.”
He said: “Everybody has the same possibility. We do not punish anybody; we reward those countries who did not contribute historically to the situation where our sport is today.
“We received a clear directive from the IOC that the quota cut should be implemented in the countries with the highest number of anti-doping rule violations, starting from Beijing .”
Next month the IWF will run an educational workshop in Russia, which will be attended by the nine banned member federations, among others.
Adamfi added: “We did not just want to sanction them because that ban alone does not do anything to change the culture. We want to make sure that in partnership with WADA, we help them to change the culture.”
It was in June 2017 that weightlifting was told that its place in the Olympic Games beyond Tokyo 2020 could be at risk if the IWF did not deliver a “satisfactory” report to the IOC’s executive board on what IOC president Thomas Bach called the “massive doping problem” the sport is facing.
Bach said that the problem was “revealed once more by re-analysis of anti-doping tests” given by weightlifters at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, where weightlifters produced 49 positive tests, resulting in the IOC stripping them of 29 medals.