Antonio Urso has called for "fundamental changes" need to be made in the weightlifting world ©Brian Oliver

Europe’s highest-ranking weightlifting administrator says the sport needs to make fundamental changes to its culture, its rules and the way competitions are presented.

"We need a new way, a new direction," Antonio Urso, President of the European Weightlifting Federation (EWF), told 33 member nations at their Congress here today.

Urso recounted his embarrassment at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August when he heard spectators laughing about the seemingly endless stream of doping cases that sent weightlifting to an all-time low in terms of public opinion.

"I was at one of the medal ceremonies and I could clearly hear the people behind me laughing and saying: 'Those medals will be in different hands in a few years'," the Italian said. 

"We are losing credibility as a sport."

The spectators were reacting to results of the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) retesting of samples from the Olympic Games at Beijing 2008 and London 2012. 

Weightlifting accounted for nearly half of all retrospective positives, with 48 cheats caught and 30 athletes stripped of their medals. 

Of those 48 positive test, 42 were from former Soviet Bloc countries.

In the notorious 2012 men’s 94 kilograms competition, seven lifters tested positive including all three medallists. 

Poland’s Tomasz Zielinski was promoted from ninth place to bronze medal position, but he was sent home from Rio 2016 for a doping offence.

Urso, speaking a day before the European Junior and Under-23 Championships are due start here, said: "Yes, 2016 has been the worst year ever for our sport, but I am not surprised.

"In 2008, 2009 and 2010, I wrote three editorials in the European Federation magazine and underlined that some of the results were not human results, that some women were becoming a man, that doping was beyond control. 

"Unfortunately some people attacked me, saying I was destroying weightlifting but today those people can see all too clearly what everybody else can see: doping is destroying us.

"If we lose our place in the Olympic Games, weightlifting will be nothing."

Poland's Tomasz Zielinski was sent home from Rio 2016 after a doping offence but is still in line to be promoted to a bronze medal from London 2012, despite originally finishing ninth ©Getty Images
Poland's Tomasz Zielinski was sent home from Rio 2016 after a doping offence but is still in line to be promoted to a bronze medal from London 2012, despite originally finishing ninth ©Getty Images

The best way for weightlifting to survive and prosper, said Urso, was for National Federations to accept "a new vision" for the sport. 

The Italian will stand for Presidency of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) next May against Tamas Ajan and two or three other candidates. 

Ajan, from Hungary, was secretary general of the IWF for 25 years and has been President since 2000.

"I have full respect for the IWF and the rules but we need a new way, a new direction," said Urso. 

"We are running fast into the future of the sport. 

"The organisation and presentation is really old and it’s up to the National Federations at the election in May. 

"Stay the same or go for a new vision - I hope they understand that we need a new solution."

Urso advocates changes in the way competitions are presented. 

"Some of the rules are not clear for spectators, and there is too much dead time," he said. 

"The lift takes 10 seconds but you might have an empty stage for one minute 30 seconds waiting for the lifter to appear."

He went onto say a new arena surrounding two platforms is the way ahead, one for men and one for women, with competitions running concurrently. 

Any such changes would have to come from the IWF, as rules are the remit of the global body.

The biggest need for change, Urso believes, is in the culture of coaching and in holding coaches responsible, and punishing them, for doping by their athletes. 

"We don’t have sanctions for coaches, doctors, physiotherapists," Urso said.

"The coach has the highest responsibility in matters of doping, and yet you can have someone as head coach of a national team who was banned for life as a lifter for doping. 

"This is unacceptable.

"We must do more to educate – not the athletes, but the coaches."

The EWF wants to create a single coaching academy where the coaches would gain qualifications at three different levels: national, continental and international. 

"Everybody would be speaking the same language, learning the same science, be on the same developmental path," said Urso. 

"As of now, all coaches are developed within their own National Federation.

"For eight years the European Federation has been pushing in the direction of changing the culture of coaches. 

"The coach is the key to the future of the sport. 

"The athlete is a consequence of the coach, not the contrary.

"In 2008 we started to hold scientific seminars at a very high level and from 2015 we published a magazine for the coaches of Europe and beyond. Everyone can download it for free. 

"Science is what coaches should be using, not doping.

"Europe is the first continental Federation to go down this path. 

"We hope to have the support of the International Federation but we can run it alone thanks to some sponsors and thanks to the Italian Olympic Committee, which is offering the opportunity to create the academy in Rome.

"The whole culture of training is responsible for doping. 

"The old coaches know only the old culture, and unfortunately the old culture is full of doping.

"The European Federation will push for young coaches and establish that it’s possible to be successful with science, not doping.

"If weightlifting wants to be a popular sport we don’t need one lifter who lifts 300 kilos, we need 10 lifters who lift 200 kilos."

IWF President Tamas Ajan will be standing for re-election in May. ©Getty Images
IWF President Tamas Ajan will be standing for re-election in May. ©Getty Images

Urso said money paid in doping fines by National Federations should go directly into strengthening doping controls in that same country. 

He also voiced concern about the efficacy of testing generally.

"I am really worried about the retests, because all the positives were for really, really old products," he said.

"For example, 75 athletes across all sports tested positive for Turinabol, the hormone used in the old DDR [East Germany]. 

"It stays in the blood and urine for a long time. 

"How is it possible that our anti-doping has not been able to discover this old product? If that’s the case we have been spending a lot of money on anti-doping for nothing. 

"Either that, or the doping controls in certain countries have hit a lot of barriers."

The coaching academy director would be Colin Buckley, the Irishman who chairs the EWF Coaching and Research Committee. 

The next of the EWF’s coaching seminars, in Kosice in Slovakia next March, will be streamed live globally and Buckley told the Congress that e-learning would be widely used in future.

Urso expects "four or five" candidates in the IWF election. 

"It’s all rumours for now but I think a minimum of four," he said.

He was a candidate for IWF Presidency in Moscow in 2013. 

"I lost by a few votes," Urso said. 

"If the National Federations realise and accept that we need a new vision for the future, I am ready. 

"If not, I will respect their decision.”