Ursula Papandrea has publicly declared her intention to regain the leadership of the International Weightlifting Federation ©IWF

Ursula Papandrea has announced her intent to regain the leadership of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) and made a damning condemnation of a "toxic culture of corruption" within the organisation.

The American became the first woman to lead the IWF when she was appointed acting, then Interim President last year before being ousted by her own board in October in a move that drew criticism from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The IOC supported Papandrea’s proposed reforms of governance within the troubled IWF and has already stated its intent to keep a close eye on the elections in late March.

Papandrea, the first candidate to declare publicly for the Presidency, said the current IWF Executive Board "lacks the genuine will to support the essential changes the organisation needs in order to survive."

Seven of the Board’s members are from nations that cannot send full teams to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games because of doping offences, including two from nations that are banned outright, Thailand and Egypt.

Under the changes proposed by Papandrea in her campaign statement, all prospective Board members would undergo a strict vetting process and key decisions on reform, ethics and disciplinary measures would be taken by "independents" from outside the IWF.

"The current Board comprises members with a catalogue of misdemeanours, sanctions violations and red flags," she said.

"Only when we remove those who have been complicit in corruption within the organisation can weightlifting restore its integrity and rebuild its status in world sport."

Papandrea stepped up last April when she replaced long-serving President Tamás Aján, who resigned after revelations about doping and corruption were exposed by the media.

In June the McLaren Report into corruption in weightlifting gave details of failed doping tests being covered up, bribery for votes, and more than $10 million (£7.3 million/€8.2 million) being unaccounted for.

Failings in governance at the IWF, and its reluctance to accept independent advice, were highlighted by the IOC, which has drastically reduced weightlifting’s athlete quota for the Paris 2024 Games and has put the sport’s Olympic status under constant review.

Papandrea said: "When I took over as Acting President of the IWF, I knew some of the vital and necessary changes could not wait until a new permanent President was appointed.

"What I have discovered is a toxic culture of corruption, self-interest and doping that prioritises maintaining the status quo.

"The governance of the IWF has tarnished the reputation of our great sport almost beyond repair and its Olympic status remains under threat."

Ursula Papandrea led the IWF following the resignation of Tamás Aján who was implicated in a corruption scandal that threatened the sport's place at future Olympic Games ©IWF
Ursula Papandrea led the IWF following the resignation of Tamás Aján who was implicated in a corruption scandal that threatened the sport's place at future Olympic Games ©IWF

Her plans for the future, should she win the election, include creating a professional Reform Commission comprising only members recommended by the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations, creating a fully formed and professionally-drafted strategic plan for cultural change in weightlifting to address all aspects of the sport from elite to grassroots, including national, continental and regional federations and creating an Integrity Commission appointed by the new Reform Commission.

Papandrea's other plans include appointing independent, external members for all Commissions dealing with ethics, discipline or judicial affairs, with no Board appointments or recommendations permitted.

She is also looking to ensure professional and external vetting of all Board members by the Integrity Commission, to invoke new anti-doping processes and ensuring independent and external anti-doping oversight, with no IWF involvement, to create a professional Education Department to co-ordinate and assist member federations in coaching, in nurturing technical officials, and in anti-doping and to provide the Athletes' Commission with a clear process to comment and propose amendments to the IWF Constitution.

Lack of athlete representation is another point raised by the IOC, and Papandrea said: "The lack of the athletes’ voice in the IWF’s governance has been an obvious and convenient omission for decades.

"Their exclusion hurts clean athletes and benefits those who have board-level support and who may not follow the rules.

"I have a non-negotiable stance on doping and want strict anti-doping policies in place.

"I have seen how current practices protect many who have no respect for the rules.

"I have seen with my own eyes how deeply corrupt the IWF is and a root-and-branch transformation is essential to give our great sport a chance to recover.

"When Board members, who should have the sport’s best interests at heart, ignore the counsel of the IOC and block all attempts at reform, it underlines the scale of the challenge ahead.

"Only when the old guard and their methods have been completely removed and barred from future involvement in weightlifting at any level can we transform the IWF’s culture and provide confidence for our athletes, our coaches, our staff and our fans.

"Be under no illusions – the future of weightlifting is at stake – and if elected I will invoke the real change required to ensure we set the standards for good practice in international sports governance to make us fit for purpose in future."

Papandrea has been in weightlifting as athlete, coach and administrator for more than 30 years.