European champion Briken Calja with President of Albania, Ilir Meta ©Brian Oliver

Albania's top weightlifters have reacted furiously to a ban imposed on them by their own National Olympic Committee, which could affect their hopes of competing at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

One of the lifters met the President of Albania, Ilir Meta, and asked him to intervene in a dispute that led to a physical confrontation between a weightlifter and an Olympic official.

The Albanian Olympic Committee (KOKSH) has dropped all weightlifters from the nation's 80-strong team for the Mediterranean Games in Tarragona, Spain, next month.

A statement by KOKSH said that the national federation was suspended for two years as "an educational message" to the nation's young athletes.

The Albanian federation is contesting that decision, seeking support from the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) and hoping that Meta will back them and ask the Olympic chiefs to reconsider.

Albania has had 11 doping positives in recent years but is not one of the nine nations currently suspended by the IWF, who are meeting in Moscow at an anti-doping seminar this week.

Three Albanians who have served doping suspensions since 2012, Briken Calja, Daniel Godelli and Erkand Qerimaj, were contenders for gold at the Mediterranean Games, for which the state reward is nearly $10,000 (£7.300/€8,300).

Albania has never won an Olympic medal in any sport and all three lifters also considered themselves potential contenders for Tokyo 2020.

But because the sport has such a poor reputation among the nation's Olympic decision-makers, KOKSH does not want to support them.

Daniel Godelli was among Albania's contingent who were preparing for the Mediterranean Games ©Getty Images
Daniel Godelli was among Albania's contingent who were preparing for the Mediterranean Games ©Getty Images

Stavri Bello, secretary general of KOKSH, said in a statement: "The International Weightlifting Federation has called for a zero tolerance policy against doping.

"Therefore, the Albanian National Olympic Committee's Board has taken a decision to suspend the Albanian Weightlifting Federation for a two-year period, to give a message to other disciplines that we are looking for medals, but we want them clean.

"This is also an educational message for athletes who achieve results cleanly.

"We want model athletes for the younger generation and we want to broadcast a clear message about Albanian sports. 

"We do not want anybody to believe that results are achievable only through doping."

Agron Haxhihyseni, general secretary of the Albanian Weightlifting Federation, told insidethegames his organisation had not been officially notified in writing of any suspension, and that as far as he and the IWF were concerned, any suspension was not valid.

The IWF did not wish to make any statement on the situation, said its director general, Attila Adamfi, as "the Albanian federation is not suspended by us".

"Mr Bello told me verbally, for the first time, 'we have suspended you for two years' but that's impossible," said Haxhihyseni.

"The IWF didn't suspend us, so we are eligible to compete in the Mediterranean Games.

"Okay, the Olympic Committee does not want certain lifters to take part - so we will send another team."

He said that he had made an agreement with Bello to do that, and would send a young team to Spain.

Haxhihyseni said that KOKSH could decide on which weightlifters represent the country only in multi-sport events, such as the Mediterranean Games and Olympic Games, but had no say in selections for IWF-sanctioned competitions.

He hoped that Meta would "send an order to the Olympic Committee to give us a new decision".

There was a physical altercation when the angry lifters confronted Vojo Malo, vice-president of KOKSH, at a heated meeting in Tirana.

Erkand Qerimaj is another of Albania's weightlifters but the sport in the country is in crisis ©Getty Images
Erkand Qerimaj is another of Albania's weightlifters but the sport in the country is in crisis ©Getty Images

Malo was reportedly shoved by Qerimaj, a former European champion who said the decision was "madness, a scandal, a violation of human rights".

Qermaj, who won at the 2009 Mediterranean Games and became European champion at 77 kilograms in 2014, said: "The reasoning of KOKSH is absurd.

"We have been unjustly excluded from the Mediterranean Games by the President and secretary of KOKSH, whose decision is not based on international law or Albanian law.

"Because the IWF has condemned some states, we are condemning ours without logical reason."

Qerimaj, 29, said many of Albania's Mediterranean Games delegation were "tourists who are just going for fun, at the taxpayer's expense".

Calja, who was fifth at 69kg in the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, met Meta to present the athletes' case. 

He said the KOKSH President, Viron Bezhani, was a "puppet" who, with Bello, had "reached the end of morality".

Godelli called the decision-makers "selfish communists" and, like Qerimaj, said they were punishing individual athletes for weightlifting's poor image in Albania when those who "mismanaged" the federation should have been held to account.

That has already happened, though.

When the latest Albanian positive was announced in January - a second offence for World Championships medallist Romela Begaj - the President of the national federation, Elez Gjoza, resigned.

That meant Albania had to withdraw as hosts of the European Championships, which moved to Romania at short notice.

There was no reply to a request for further clarification from KOKSH. 

Meanwhile, in Lithuania, the President of the national weightlifting federation has been arrested for alleged distribution of doping materials.

Bronislovas Vysniauskas, who was later released but is still under police investigation, has coached several top athletes who have tested positive, the latest being Aurimas Didzbalis, whose second career positive came after he won silver at last year's World Championships in the United States.

Three athletes who competed at this year's Fajr Cup in Iran in March have tested positive for methylhexamine, a banned stimulant.

Romela Begaj's failure led to Albania losing the hosting rights to the European Championships ©Getty Images
Romela Begaj's failure led to Albania losing the hosting rights to the European Championships ©Getty Images

Fazal Karum Turkman, from Afghanistan, and the Tajikistan pair Asomuddin Sangov and Sunatullo Oyev, have been suspended by the IWF pending analysis of B-samples.

Also in Iran, three weightlifters were among eight athletes suspended by IRANADO, the national doping agency, which carries out tests in a range of sports.

Two national-level weightlifters were banned for four years after testing positive for steroids and the third, the talented junior Abbas Zandi, was suspended for six months after traces of methylhexamine were found. 

Zandi, 19, was tenth at 85kg in last year's IWF Junior World Championships, and third at the Asian Juniors.

The "local" positives will not affect Iran's tally of adverse findings on which quota places for Tokyo 2020 will be based.