Liam Morgan ©ITG

When it eventually came, the International Weightlifting Federation's (IWF) decision to suspend nine countries for a year for their poor doping records was the right one.

But a proposed move from the European body to move their Championships in Antalya in Turkey from March and April to the Autumn to allow banned countries to compete is plainly wrong.

To go slightly further, it is shambolic and farcical.

This week, reports circulated that the European Weightlifting Federation (EWF) were set to switch their flagship event to ensure seven of the nine countries, including Russia and the host nation, could take part despite the suspension.

It came after Maxim Agapitov, the head of the Russian Weightlifting Federation - surprise surprise - claimed the Championships would be re-arranged in an interview with TASS, Russia's state news agency.

The suspensions, handed out by the IWF after all of the nations involved registered three or more drugs positives following re-analysis of samples from the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games in Beijing and London respectively, come to an end in mid-October, six months after the 2018 European Championships were due to conclude.

As well as Russia and Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine have also been suspended from Europe, with Kazakhstan and China the other two countries to be sanctioned.

The whole idea of a suspension in sport is the same as in other areas of society. It is a deterrent.

In the same way you punish a child for misbehaving by banning them from playing their favourite computer games console or suspending their sweet privileges for an indefinite amount of time, the whole reason for it is to stop the offending party from doing it again.

By moving the Championships to allow the seven countries at the heart of weightlifting’s well-documented doping problem the chance to compete, there is no deterrent.

The IWF Executive Board banned nine countries for a year for their poor doping records ©IWF
The IWF Executive Board banned nine countries for a year for their poor doping records ©IWF

In fact, doing so subverts the whole point of the ban. It was put in place as a stern punishment, not as something to be circumvented and manipulated at the will of the organisers and other organisations within the sport of weightlifting.

The suspension meant that they would be barred from the World Championships and the European Championships. It should stay that way.

The EWF's supposed move is also counter-productive at a time when weightlifting is battling to save its future on the Olympic programme.

The threat from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) could not have been clearer - clean up or lose your place. The plan from the continental body not only puts this in jeopardy but will only worsen weightlifting's reputation and image worldwide.

In fairness to the IWF, this is not their fault; it is solely down to the EWF and the global organisation made that clear in a statement earlier this week.

"The IWF made a strong decision in Bucharest and the European Championships fall under the sole authority of the EWF," a spokesperson said.

"We haven't received any written statement regarding this issue so we are not able to comment."

Privately, though, one suspects they are seething. Barely a week after they took a bold decision to ban a significant portion of their most successful nations from international competition, one of their own members has gone out of their way to go against it.

Russia are among the nine countries who will miss this year's World Championships in Anaheim ©Getty Images
Russia are among the nine countries who will miss this year's World Championships in Anaheim ©Getty Images

Most of the EWF's motives are clear yet questionable. For a start, they do not want to host an event where their own athletes are banned from participating as this would be humiliating from both a sporting and political standpoint.

The absence of leading countries would also damage the prestige and attraction of the Championships, as well as hurting ticket sales and other revenue opportunities relating to the event.

The statistics make for grim reading from an EWF perspective. Russia, the worst offender with 10 positives out of the 49 retests, has finished top for 11 of the last 15 editions of the European Championships, including in Split earlier this year when they won 33 medals, 13 of them gold.

In the four Championships where Russia was not top of the medals table, either Armenia, Azerbaijan or Turkey were.

In Split, four of the countries now banned were among the top six countries.

To paraphrase one of the commenters on our story following Agapitov’s comments, there would not be as much interest in seeing lesser European nations battle for titles the likes of Russia and Turkey would usually be competing for.

But this should not be an excuse to permit the banned countries to attend. If they cannot be there, so be it.

The EWF are perhaps guilty of placing finance and prestige over the need to tackle the sport’s systemic doping problem.

After all, the IWF faced the same risks when initiating the ban in the first place. The organisation knew it would mean a depleted field at their World Championships in Anaheim, scheduled to run from November 28 to December 5, but that did not stop them taking what they - and many - felt was the correct course of action.

Another possible element in the situation is - as is seemingly always the case these days - party politics.

Antonio Urso, the head of the EWF, stood against Tamás Aján in a bitter IWF Presidential election earlier this year, with the incumbent retaining his position following victory in Bangkok in May.

At the election in the Thai capital, several of Urso's supporters were also voted off the Executive Board, further infuriating the Italian.

The two candidates have been at loggerheads over the years - Urso also lost to Aján in the 2013 election - and that continued following Aján's win as Urso attacked the IWF leadership in response to the warnings from the IOC.

Is Urso using the possible move of the European Championships to send a message to Aján, IWF President since 2000, and the rest of the organisation? Is he going against the IWF's ban to highlight the strength and power of the continental body he leads?

IOC President Thomas Bach has warned weightlifting to address their doping problem or lose their place on the Olympic programme ©Getty Images
IOC President Thomas Bach has warned weightlifting to address their doping problem or lose their place on the Olympic programme ©Getty Images

After all, this is a man who criticises the IWF's supposed deficiencies when it comes to the fight against doping under Aján at every possible opportunity. 

Moving the Championships would escalate the row even further.

The Russian argument is that they have already been punished after their entire team was excluded from last year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, and perhaps they are using the EWF as a way of fighting back against the IWF for their sanctioning of the country's weightlifters.

An appeal is likely to be filed by the RWF against the year-long suspension. 

Such an appeal must be ignored and the suspension should remain intact - just as the European Championships should remain in March and April as previously scheduled - if weightlifting is to restore its credibility and remain an Olympic sport.