On Tuesday, the International Weightlifting Federation posted a note celebrating the support of “more than one hundred Member Federations” for a Constitution Reform Congress and Electoral Congress to be held next March, concluding
“The IWF would like to express its gratitude and acknowledge the Member Federations in question. Together, we can deliver the reform our sport needs to ensure a brighter future.”
It may be too late. Way too late.
On Thursday, the World Anti-Doping Agency released a 14-page report from its Intelligence & Investigations Department summarizing its work on weightlifting and both confirmed the malfeasance raised by the IWF’s own report from Canadian law professor Richard McLaren, but going much further into the culture of doping that has run rampant within the sport for years.
The key outcome of the WADA findings, in a still-ongoing probe, was summarized on page 10:
“The McLaren IWF investigation and the I&I Department investigations point to a system of
patronage for protection directed by former IWF President, Mr [Tamas] Ajan. This system appears to have allowed certain National Federations to operate with virtual doping impunity.
“Operation Extra intelligence suggests that the mismanagement of some National Federations represents a major weakness, which has allowed doping to thrive within the sport.
“Operation Extra intelligence also suggests that, among certain National Federations, promising young athletes were protected, while those with less potential were either encouraged to dope or used as donors of clean urine.
“The allegations received by Operation Extra would suggest the problems faced by weightlifting are not centralized in any particular country or region but are more global.”
The reference to “Operation Extra” was just one of four separate inquiries into the IWF, all which returned damning conclusions against the sport:
(1) Operation Outreach, on allegations that a “high-ranking member of the IWF” ran a bribery scheme to conceal doping of Russian athletes and non-Russian athletes whose performances would “promote Russian interests.”
(2) Operation Heir, on advance notice of testing on Romanian lifters and a program of either sample substitution or using surrogates to provide samples in place of the actual competitors.
(3) Operation Extra, concerning improper practices of national weightlifting federations, and
(4) Operation Arrow, focused on the methodology of sample substitution or surrogate sample givers.
The report underlined the importance of WADA’s “Confidential Information Unit” (CIU), which collected advice, evidence and tip-offs from whistleblowers and similar sources. The report noted in detail the importance of this information and underscored the need for continued and improved communications by such interested parties with WADA on a completely protected basis.
For Operation Outreach:
“In short, the Confidential Sources detailed a history of protection orchestrated from within the highest levels of the IWF to the benefit of ‘doped’ Russian weightlifters. More specifically, between 2012 and 2016, a high-ranking member of the IWF purportedly received about $5,000,000 USD from Russian entities to cover up allegations of doping by Russian weightlifters. These monies were concealed within the IWF under the banner of “fines” (Administrative Fines) imposed under the IWF Anti-Doping Policy …
“In September 2019, Operation Outreach identified additional Confidential Sources willing to provide information about the President of the IWF at that time, Mr Tamas Ajan. These Confidential Sources claimed that Mr Ajan routinely used the influence of his honorary Hungarian ‘diplomatic passport’ to transport large sums of money in and out of Hungary undisturbed. A diplomatic passport ordinarily ensures that the holder and their luggage
are exempt from any interference or inspection by border control.
“In October 2019, discrete, covert investigations by Operation Outreach revealed a significant discrepancy (almost $3,000,000 USD) between the total value of Administrative Fines received by the IWF as published on the IWF website, and those recorded internally by the IWF. This discrepancy partially corroborated the claims of the Confidential Sources.”
For Operation Heir:
“In early 2018, the CIU began receiving information from Confidential Sources alleging that an organized doping and protection scheme operated within Romania to the benefit of select weightlifters. The scheme allegedly included, trafficking of Prohibited Substances, advance notice of testing missions and urine substitution (via the use of doppelgangers). Allegations included the involvement of “officials” and encouragement of the ‘clean’ athletes to remain quiet and not to speak up.”
The WADA report noted much of the information from this effort has been turned over to law enforcement authorities in undisclosed countries. But it did note that a 2018 doping sample collection from Romanian athletes did provide evidence of the use of surrogate sample providers.
Operation Extra was the most troubling of all, as it confirmed – as quoted above – the worldwide extent of doping support provided by national weightlifting federations. The report does not name the countries involved, but does 10 primary allegations of infractions:
● “Use of synthetic urinary devices by international-level athletes to swap dirty urine with clean urine.
● “Urine substitution to protect doped athletes.
● “Use of ‘clean’ athletes to provide samples in place of ‘doped’ athletes.
● “Use of ‘undetectable’ growth hormones to evade doping controls.
● “Use of transfusions to clean an athlete’s system prior to competing at the Olympic Games.
● “Coaches who provided athletes with doping programs.
● :Officials who provided bribes to protect athletes.
● “Officials who provided advance testing to coaches and athletes.
● “Doping Control Officers (DCOs) who provided advance notice for testing.
● “A coach who doped athletes from different nations by acting as a doping consultant.”
This is what high-level doping evasion looks like. The evidence has been turned over to the International Testing Agency, which is now the contracted doping-control agency for the IWF. The WADA report further noted:
“A disturbing trend which emerged during Operation Extra was an apparent culture of silence and fear that exists within the sport. Operation Extra intelligence indicates that many weightlifters had little to no confidence that their national and international federation was protecting their best interests and the sport’s best interests.”
While the countries involved were not named, it’s worthwhile to note the sanctions already imposed for the Olympic Games in Tokyo:
● Allowed only 2 competitors (5): Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia.
● Allowed only 4 competitors (8): Albania, Bulgaria, India, Iran, Romania, Turkey, Ukraine, Uzbekistan.
The WADA report further commented that “This culture of silence provided an almost
guaranteed level of impunity to those individuals who sought to corrupt the sport for their own personal gain. The CIU was fortunate and grateful that a small number of individuals accepted to share their full stories. Others would only agree to provide anonymous information. Potential sources declined to provide their contact information or allow follow-up communications. Some only wished to share information about their specific cases but did not provide names. Others were simply too afraid of the potential consequences to come forward.”
Operation Arrow is a continuing look into urine substitution practices and identified more than two dozen certain or near-certain instances of substitution from at least five countries. One aspect of the inquiry uncovered a practice of some anti-doping laboratories destroying samples after 90 days – the minimum required – instead of holding them for up to 10 years for re-analysis with better techniques. This is also part of the pro-coping problem in the sport.
WADA President Witold Banka (POL) was unsparing in his comments:
“WADA is appalled by what its Intelligence and Investigations Department has uncovered in this investigation. For too long, clean weightlifters have had to deal with an entrenched culture of doping in their sport, where the promotion of fear ensured that the truth remained hidden and that those who wanted to do the right thing were isolated. …
“WADA will continue to do all it can to help provide clean weightlifters with a safe and healthy environment for their sport. To do that more effectively in general, I believe this report shows clearly that it is time to start a discussion as to whether WADA should be granted additional powers of investigation, including unfettered access to all relevant internal documents and servers within the organization under investigation.”
It’s worth noting that as of today, the listed 18-member IWF Executive Board includes individuals from seven sanctioned federations: Egypt, India, Kazakhstan, Romania, Russia, Thailand and Uzbekistan.
With the IWF’s credibility on doping, finance and governance shattered, the International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board has another dysfunctional federation to deal with at its next meeting on 11 November. Already running boxing for the Tokyo Games, it may well be operating weightlifting as well.
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