Russian Weightlifting Federation President Maxim Agapitov has warned of a "return to the dark ages" for the sport of weightlifting ©EWF

The head of the Russian Weightlifting Federation (RWF) has accused the sport's governing body of being unfair, unjust and unconstitutional in its anti-doping policies, and describes a new independent sanctions panel as "a Medieval Inquisition".

RWF President Maxim Agapitov has written to every member of the International Weightlifting Federation's (IWF) Executive Board, complaining that Member Federations are denied their part in "life or death" decision-making processes.

He also warned that weightlifting will "return to the dark ages" without radical change to anti-doping policy.

Agapitov wants a new IWF President to replace Tamás Aján, who has been general secretary or President since 1976.

Agapitov has called on his 20 fellow members of the Executive Board to take action at their meeting in Thailand next month, to limit the powers of the IWF secretariat in appointing members of independent panels and to make fundamental changes to the anti-doping strategy.

IWF President Tamás Aján has come under direct attack from Maxim Agapitov ©Getty Images
IWF President Tamás Aján has come under direct attack from Maxim Agapitov ©Getty Images

In a prompt and strongly worded reply, Aján said the secretariat had no such powers and that Agapitov did not understand the IWF's rules and processes, partly because he spent too much time "WhatsApping and posting on social media during Executive Board meetings".

Aján questioned Agapitov's motives, and said he was "unprofessional" in criticising highly qualified experts.

Aján also pointed out that Agapitov had played a part in the decisions he complained about, and said: "If you sit in a worldwide governing body, you should consider the interest of the sport worldwide – not only your personal or national interests."

Less than two weeks ago, 12 doping violations by Russians were announced by the IWF, based on information provided by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and mostly relating to transgressions between 2012 and 2014.

"I cannot comment on the situations of five to seven years ago," said Agapitov, who took over as RWF President in 2016 and has overseen, he claimed, "a complete modernisation of the anti-doping system".

"I know that old system in Russia was part and reflection of the international [system]. Today a completely new Federation and new leaders in Russia are working. Unfortunately, there has been no change in the IWF [leadership].

Agapitov claimed Aján had done too little to counter the sport's doping problems in the past.

Those problems came to a head when 24 athletes tested positive at the 2015 IWF World Championships and 55 weightlifters were unveiled as cheats by the International Olympic Committee, when stored samples from the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympic Games were retested.

The sport was effectively put on probation by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in June 2017, but has been restored to the Olympic schedule for the foreseeable future after the IWF made significant changes in the past two years.

There has been a complete overhaul of the Olympic qualifying system, a new partnership with the International Testing Agency (ITA), and a crackdown on past offenders leading to 17 different nations losing a total of 76 potential quota places at Tokyo 2020.

Russia's Olympic medallist Dmitry Lapikov was suspended earlier this month ©Getty Images
Russia's Olympic medallist Dmitry Lapikov was suspended earlier this month ©Getty Images

Russia is one of five nations that can send only two athletes to Tokyo, while those with a good record can send up to eight.

Perhaps most significantly, the IWF turned to the expertise of independent "outsiders" who have never worked in weightlifting to sit on the new Clean Sport Commission and a sanctions panel.

Agapitov was unhappy with the way the independent advisers were appointed, most notably for the Independent Member Federations Sanctions Panel, the body that decides on the severity of punishment – up to a four-year suspension - for nations with multiple offenders.

He also believes that Member Federations are discouraged from catching cheats because of punitive sanctions should they do so, and that National Federations are lumbered with too much blame for doping violations by unscrupulous individuals.

The five members of the sanctions panel include two who also sit on the Clean Sport Commission, the American lawyer Richard Young and Andrea Gotzmann, President of Germany's National Anti-Doping Agency.

The others are Ulrich Haas, a Swiss professor of law who is an arbitrator for the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS); Andrew Pipe, a member of the integrity unit of the International Association of Athletics Federations; and Ben Sanford, a lawyer who competed in skeleton at the Winter Olympics for New Zealand.

Agapitov said he was concerned that these five - who have "unlimited, discretionary powers" - were proposed and appointed by the IWF secretariat.

He said it was "surprising and disappointing" that the panel was appointed and already operational, according to a Clean Sport Commission letter in June, before the Congress or Executive Board knew who was on it.

"Who are these 'independent and competent experts', who proposed them to be the candidates, who were the other candidates, was there any transparent electoral procedure?" Agapitov said.

"This is another example of truly unacceptable actions by the IWF secretariat, which is trying desperately to substitute both the Congress and the Executive Board, instead of exercising the functions of the IWF's back-office, as prescribed by the IWF constitution."

Germany's Andrea Gotzmann sits on the IWF Clean Sport Commission ©Getty Images
Germany's Andrea Gotzmann sits on the IWF Clean Sport Commission ©Getty Images

Agapitov warned the panel was "a Medieval-Age Inquisition" whose existence "goes against the current version of the IWF Constitution".

In reply, Aján said Agapitov was wrong about the process and his complaints made no sense.

Agapitov had himself been involved in the creation of the sanctions panel, said Aján, after a presentation to the Executive Board by Richard Young in Anaheim in 2017, and had approved the members of the panel at subsequent Board meetings in 2018.

"The secretariat has no right to decide the composition of such panel, they are only implementing decisions of the Executive Board," Aján wrote.

In his letter to IWF Board members Agapitov also writes, "I was the only member of the Executive Board who proposed, back in June 2018, some amendments to the draft of the IWF Anti-Doping Rules prepared by the Clean Sport Commission.

"The reasons… were, in essence, quite obvious - to keep the IWF anti-doping policies in line with the fundamental principles, essential values of Olympism and universal ethical and legal principles set forth in the Olympic Charter, World Anti-Doping Code and European Convention of Human Rights.

"I also argued that the version offered by the IWF did not motivate the Member Federations to fight against doping, to find and pursue dopers and cheaters and to nail them according to the anti-doping rules."

National Federations, said Agapitov, were at the forefront of the fight against doping but would be "seduced to hide" any violations for fear of being excessively punished for their own good work in catching cheats. In short, "clean" athletes were liable to be unfairly punished, Federations could be suspended by the panel without a hearing, and the rules would encourage "corruption".

Nearly a year later, on July 1 this year, the Clean Sport Commission replied, saying Agapitov's proposals were "unacceptable" and that the independent panel must not be elected by Member Federations.

Agapitov also took issue with the Clean Sport Commission's insistence, reiterated in its recent letter, that "it is the Member Federation's duty to ensure that none of its athletes dopes".

He said that if the IOC had adopted such an approach to International Federations, "then the IWF itself should have been banned long ago for the highest number of positives after London and Beijing retests - in the Clean Sport Commission’s language, the IWF shall be liable irrespective of its fault".

Ajan claimed that Agapitov was again mistaken about punishments, and that any violations uncovered at national, rather than international level would not count towards any possible suspension.

He said he felt that Agapitov’s letter was "inspired by fear of the consequences that may be applied" to Russia because of the 12 doping violations announced in the past two weeks.

"I can understand that you are under pressure from your Government," Ajan wrote, "however, insulting independent experts and questioning decisions made by yourself sitting in the Executive Board…is clearly unprofessional."

Agapitov ended his missive by asking Board members to read his letter and attached documents very carefully and "decide responsibly for yourself, and for all those athletes and coaches you represent, whether you are ready to get back to the Dark Ages of our beloved weightlifting…or you are ready to fight doping together in a fair, transparent and non-discriminative manner, and make the sport great again".