Moira Lassen has called for an independent group to run the IWF until their next elections ©Getty Images

A Canadian who was a victim of Tamás Aján's vote-rigging corruption says the current Executive Board of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) should not be trusted to take any immediate decisions on the sport’s future.

"An entirely independent group should come in to run the IWF from now until the next elections, and those elections must be very closely monitored," said Moira Lassen, a former chair of the IWF Women’s Commission.

Similar views were expressed two days ago by Travis Tygart, chief executive of the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), and Global Athlete, an athletes’ representative group.

Tygart said the level of corruption in weightlifting, and the refusal of many IWF Board members to co-operate with an independent inquiry, meant it was time to "act now and involve athletes in the creation and leadership of an independent oversight committee to take over all of international weightlifting’s operations and management."

Global Athlete’s statement said it was "deeply concerned that the names of IWF Executive Board members and member federations who refused to co-operate were not disclosed in the {McLaren} report.

Global Athlete said they "called on the IWF to appoint an independent organisation, overseen by independent athletes, to determine follow-up actions to the report."

Ursula Papandrea, the Interim President of the IWF, said it was unfair to hold the entire Board responsible for the misdemeanours carried out by Aján, the disgraced former President.

Lassen lost her seat on the Board at the 2017 electoral Congress in Bangkok, Thailand at which results were distorted by bribery, according to the McLaren Independent Investigation into Weightlifting.

When Aján won a fifth term as IWF President he was helped by paying bribes of between $5,000 (£3,946/€4,428) and $30,000 (£23,680/€26,570) to delegates, mostly from Asia and Africa, said the report, which revealed a shocking level of corruption in the sport.

Votes for other positions were also rigged, as the bribed delegates voted en bloc for Aján and the candidates he had "anointed", said McLaren.

As a result four senior Board members who supported Aján's rival Antonio Urso were ousted – general secretary Ma Wenguang of China, vice-president Sam Coffa of Australia, Christian Baumgartner of Germany, and Lassen.

"I still love the sport, but what happened there lost something for me," said Lassen, who has not worked in weightlifting since the 2017 elections other than refereeing two competitions in Australia, where she lived at the time.

The McLaren report described Aján as creating a culture of fear during his time at the helm of the IWF ©Getty Images
The McLaren report described Aján as creating a culture of fear during his time at the helm of the IWF ©Getty Images

Urso and his supporters thought they had the votes to win, but a block-voting arrangement was made through bribes which were paid out in cash by the IWF’s first vice-president Intarat Yodbangtoey of Thailand, said the report.

When McLaren’s team of investigators sought information from senior Board members and continental federation Presidents they were rebuffed.

Only two of the IWF’s five vice-presidents, excluding Interim President Papandrea, came forward, and only two of eight congressionally elected members of the Board.

Withholding information from McLaren’s team "will be treated as a serious breach of obligations to the IWF" according to McLaren’s terms of reference, drawn up by the Oversight and Integrity Commission which Papandrea chairs.

"There are names in the (McLaren) report who are on Aján's preferred list from the election in Thailand, and they’re the ones who are going to make the decision on the report," said Lassen.

"That’s wrong. If somebody knows that they were a ‘patsy’ or knew they were elected in an untoward or unethical way, if it was a bought election, is it proper for these Board members to be involved?

"There’s a philosophical question that everybody (on Aján's list) has to ask themselves: ‘Did I really get elected’?

"The next decisions should be made by an independent group, not by the current Board.”

The McLaren report stated: "In advance of the electoral Congress, Aján would evaluate and personally select the members to the Executive Board that would form his team, strategically choosing individuals that are either ‘corrupt and status seekers’ or completely unaware and oblivious to what he was trying to accomplish."

Papandrea herself was on the list but feels it is unfair for others to criticise her and the whole Board.

The American was supported by Aján and replaced Lassen as Women’s Commission chair before taking charge of the IWF when Aján stood aside in January.

Largely because of her efforts, Aján resigned in April.

Ursula Papandrea said she was
Ursula Papandrea said she was "completely unaware" of Aján's vote-rigging at previous IWF electoral congresses ©Getty Images

Papandrea was one of those who said she was "completely unaware."

It was her first IWF election, she had never seen the voting process before and she said, "I did not know about electoral activities.

"This Board ordered the investigation and hired McLaren.

"To now defame the integrity of the entire Board is unfair.

"I think it is sad and unhelpful that former Board members are turning this into the unfair treatment they incurred.

"The final point should be how unfair it has been for the athletes as a result of these politics.

"Continued fighting about politics and elected legitimacy does nothing to help.

"If this is the case, anybody serving on a Board for the last 20 years was illegitimate."

Papandrea, the first woman to lead the IWF concluded: "It would be good for the sport if everyone who wants to reform works together to that end, lest we continue to divide the sport along perceived lines, from within or outside."

On the report’s findings Lassen said, "It puts a bad taste in your mouth about the sport, which is not fair.

"The actual sport, the thing that’s going on in the clubs all over the world, on platforms all over the world, has not got anything to do with this insular group at the IWF, but they run it.

"It’s a beautiful sport, a fantastic sport that is great for mental health, for physical health, for spiritual health, everything. But they’ve gone and ruined it by their selfish behaviour.

"It is so open to any individual, any body shape, any weight or size, you can do it in a remote location, you don’t have to be in a team, it’s a great sport for low socio-economic individuals, or countries – it’s open for everybody.

USADA chief executive Travis Tygart supports the views of Lassen that an independent group should run the IWF until the next elections ©Getty Images
USADA chief executive Travis Tygart supports the views of Lassen that an independent group should run the IWF until the next elections ©Getty Images

"It can be just you and a bar. It’s such a global sport and they are destroying it completely."

Lassen, who said she was not sure whether she would return to weightlifting in some capacity, also said she understood McLaren’s comments about Aján’s "culture of fear”.

On page 37 of his 122-page report McLaren wrote of Aján: "If any of his chosen Executive Board members started to drift out of line, he would warn them with threats.

"In one historical instance, he stated to a confidential witness that he could turn their athletes’ samples ‘dirty’ and in another instance he declared to Nicu Vlad, President of the Romanian Weightlifting Federation ‘do not forgot, next time we must decide the countries inside the Olympic Games or outside, we will decide who will be in Tokyo and who will not’; a veiled threat that the Romanian Federation may not make it to the Olympics.

"These warning messages aimed at Executive Board members were control mechanisms to ensure compliance."

Lassen said: "If you didn’t stay onside you were considered offside, you were dialled out.

"I was scared also because my daughter {Jeane, who competed at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games} was in the game.

"I started realising how political it all is and it started to scare me more - I realised that anybody could do anything to her sample.

"It didn’t come to me till much later, that anyone could open the sample bottle, and that was a scary realisation. You don’t say things because you are scared of what might happen.”

She said Urso, who was beaten by Aján in the Presidential elections of 2013 and 2017, "was offside for a very long time, having made accusations against Aján a long time ago, and nobody listened."

Lassen was optimistic about the future and saw the McLaren report as "a watershed moment" for weightlifting.

"There is hope, as long as the people involved in the corruption of the 2017 vote are not still sitting at the table," she said.

"Because are they really there in the first place?”