THE LATEST: ITA report shows IWF mishandled, covered up or bungled 142 doping cases from more than a dozen countries from 2009-19

Former International Weightlifting Federation president Tamas Ajan (HUN). (Photo: IWF)

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A 50-page report released Thursday about doping and the International Weightlifting Federation from the International Testing Agency documented a years-long program of doping positives going unpunished due to “administrative oversight due to poor organisation skills, to jurisdictional mix-up, to passivity, and on to blatant cover-up.”

In addition to a lengthy review of some 146 cases from 2009-19 which required investigation, the report specifically alleges direct violations of the World Anti-Doping Code against:

● Former IWF President Tamas Ajan (HUN) for “Complicity and Tampering with multiple” doping violations;

● Current IWF Vice President Nico Vlad, also the current President of the Romanian Weightlifting Federation; and

Hassan Akkus, President of the European Weightlifting Confederation and former President of the Turkish Weightlifting Federation.

The IWF issued a statement in which Interim President Dr. Michael Irani noted:

“While the IWF is thankful for the ITA’s clear acknowledgement that such craven acts could not be repeated under its independent results management process, thanks to the arrangements in place for some time now, today’s report shows just how dark the dark days of our sport were. To all those athletes who were cheated of the opportunity to compete fairly, I would like to offer the IWF’s unreserved apology.”

Astonishingly, however, the statement did not include resignations or suspensions of Vlad or Akkus, both listed as current members of the IWF Executive Board!

The ITA inquiry was commissioned in November 2020 and took eight months, as a reaction to the German ARD network documentary “Lord of the Lifters” from January 2020 and the subsequent investigation by McLaren Global Sport Solutions, filed in June 2020, which detailed numerous doping, financial and governance problems in the federation.

The ITA focused on 146 questionable doping cases identified by the World Anti-Doping Agency and was able to review some 75 GB of IWF data, conducted interviews with 15 people, reviewed 14 whistle-blower reports and “produced over 75 investigative, interview or human source intelligence reports.

Of the 146 questionable cases, four were listed by WADA itself and 142 were positives in the WADA registry from weightlifting that had not been resolved. Of the 142:

● 67 were found to have been properly handled by the IWF, but WADA was never informed;

● 23 cases are being handled by the ITA currently, all from 2019;

● 12 cases were resuscitated by the ITA and are being reviewed;

● 6 cases were under the jurisdiction of anti-doping organizations other than the IWF; these have been handed over to the correct authority for further review;

● 5 cases were not doping violations at all;

● 29 cases cannot be reviewed since the 10-year statue of limitations has passed, and/or the applicable samples have been destroyed.

The report went into considerable detail on some of the methodologies used to work out positive doping results. This included:

“For the vast majority of samples on the WADA List, the [Doping Control Form], and hence the athlete’s identity, had not been matched in ADAMS [data reporting system] by the IWF or other responsible [testing authority]. The only information available to WADA (and the ITA) was the laboratory result contained in ADAMS, with limited information.

“The ITA’s investigation found evidence that in some instances the IWF deliberately avoided matching DCFs with sample codes so as to purposely omit to link the [adverse findings] to the athlete in ADAMS, with a view to circumvent WADA’s scrutiny.”

But the efforts went much further, including simply ignoring WADA’s requests for information, backdating test reports, substituting samples and other activities regarding multiple federations:

Azerbaijan: 23 samples provided by 18 Azeri lifters in 2013 came back positive, but three of those athletes were permitted to compete in the IWF World Championships that year. Wrote Ajan in a December letter following the Worlds:

“What we have done for your athletes and Federation is something the IWF has never done before and not willing or able to do in the future. The knot tightens around my neck and my 45 years work could go down in a blink.”

Egypt: 11 of the 29 “lost cases” took place between 2009-10, but when asked about this, the Egyptian federation “explained that the current EWF administration was not
involved back then and that archives were lost during the civil uprising that took place in
Egypt around the same period, so no conclusion could be drawn on those cases.”

Thailand: “Between 2011 and 2012, it appears that 93 [Thai] athletes tested positive for anabolic steroids. TAWA [the Thai federation] stated that the athletes who tested positive belonged to provincial clubs and the large number of cases were a result of an initiative taken by TAWA and the Sports Authority of Thailand to ‘get rid of or to minimize positives cases of weightlifting in Thailand’.

“In 2015, upon inquiry by WADA, TAWA provided the IWF with an Excel spreadsheet
containing the names and sanctions imposed on 85 athletes (18 male, 67 female). This
document indicated that the athletes were sanctioned with a period of ineligibility of two
years each. Based on the IWF Records reviewed by the ITA, these numbers did not alarm the IWF, nor trigger any reaction. In hindsight, the ITA finds that the recurrence of waves of ADRVs in Thai weightlifting speaks to the nonchalance of the IWF to the systemic issue of the prevalence of doping in some regions.”

Turkey: Akkus “colluded with the IWF to change the responsible authority (i.e. the Results Management Authority) for 17 Turkish athletes from the IWF to the [Turkish Weightlifting Federation]” in 2013.

“The purpose of this plot was to avoid the TWF being sanctioned by the IWF under the regime of sanctions imposed on Member Federations … Considering that, for [IWF] sanctions, only IWF cases are taken into account and not national [doping violations], the requalification of the sanctions to national-level allowed the TWF and its official to avoid being banned from participating in any IWF activities for a period of up to 4 years and allowed the TWF to avoid the payment of a fine of up to USD 500,000.”

● Ajan and Vlad were involved in a scheme in 2012 to allow Romanian lifter Roxana Cocos to compete in the women’s 69 kg class at the London 2012 Games, at which she won a silver medal. She had tested positive in April 2012 and had substituted samples in 2010 and 2012. She was disqualified in 2019 after re-tests of her samples were done, but Ajan and Vlad had allowed her to compete despite knowing she was ineligible due to her anti-doping rules violations.

● The report further notes that Ajan’s obstruction was responsible for delaying the processing 50 cases from 2014 and before, including the 29 which have been classified as irretrievable.

The report further noted:

“During its investigation, the ITA came across evidence of wrongdoing which was outside the scope of the ITA’s mandate. This included identified misconduct such as, but not limited to, contractual malfeasance, a fishy transfer market for athlete nationality, and indications of misappropriation and financial impropriety related to fines imposed in doping cases.”

It’s another black eye for the IWF and for Irani, who has been a member of the “IWF Medical Committee” since 1992. The federation has a Constitutional Congress and elections coming up prior to the Tokyo Games.

Weightlifting’s place on the Olympic program is at stake and what the IWF does about Vlad and Akkus will be placed in the balance when the International Olympic Committee decides what to do about this great sport and its continually-unscrupulous leadership.

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