Candidates from around the world have complained that new rules for the forthcoming International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) elections are "unworkable, chaotic and impossible to follow in the short time allowed."
They say the deadlines imposed for submitting eligibility documents cannot be met, especially by those from less developed countries, and that the demands are poorly thought through and unfair.
The decision to hold elections before adopting a new Constitution comes under fire again, and insidethegames has learned that the IWF Board has rejected strong advice about this from independent experts on its two most important Commissions.
The IWF’s former Interim President Ursula Papandrea said: "I am happy that vetting has been adopted but this is a hollow document whose impact will only create an administrative obstacle for many candidates.
"Unfortunately, it does little in providing the type of vetting needed.
"It merely creates the optics of action to appease criticism from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
"As I have stated before, there must be vetting but it should be by an independent panel, not by members appointed by the candidates being vetted."
Many candidates have voiced their concerns about the rules - the main purpose of which is to make candidates undergo eligibility checks - either to insidethegames or on social media.
Details of precisely which documents should be provided are deemed too vague, for example showing proof that somebody is not mentally incapacitated or is not bankrupt.
"No such documents exist," is a widely expressed complaint, as is the lack of time - documents must be sent in by Monday (February 15).
The Executive Board candidate Milan Mihajlovic, President of the Serbian Weightlifting Federation, said: "These elections should be in the spirit of democracy and equal conditions for all.
"With the deadline and the demands, the candidates are not equal."
The validity of the interim rules has been called into question by Attila Adamfi, former director general of the IWF, and Jinqiang Zhou, President of the Chinese Weightlifting Association.
In writing to Despina Mavromati, the Swiss-Greek lawyer who chairs the IWF’s new Ethics and Disciplinary Commission (EDC), Adamfi suggested that the new rule declaring decisions on eligibility "not appealable" contravenes Article 12.8 of the IWF Constitution, which states that "disciplinary and ethics procedures may be appealed solely and exclusively to the Court of Arbitration for Sport."
Zhou made the same point in a letter to Mavromati, her Australian vice-chair Andrew Minogue, and the IWF Secretariat.
He also said the IWF had effectively wasted valuable time, as it received all nominations by January 25.
Zhou wrote: "I fully agree with the eligibility verification, but I believe such eligibility rules should have been circulated to all Member Federations prior to or at least together with the candidature forms, to avoid the possibility of being taken advantage of by a few candidates against others."
Some, but not all, members of the IWF Board had the list of candidates for two weeks before it was released, giving them an unfair advantage over their rivals.
Zhou also stated: "I am sorry to be direct, but it is too short a time to leave only a few days to all candidates to prepare all these documentations, during the current COVID-19 pandemic in particular."
If endorsement is required from other authorities than IWF Member Federations "it is very likely all candidates may fail to provide them within such short notice, especially in China when we are starting to celebrate the seven-day national holidays from February 11."
Zhou, Papandrea, and Adamfi are on the list of candidates, released by the IWF yesterday after a two-week delay, for the elections on March 26 and 27.
Adamfi raised several points that need clarification about documents, and conflicting dates in his letter, which he posted on social media here.
Florian Sperl, President of the German Weightlifting Federation said: "The best thing would be to postpone the elections and adopt the Constitution first.
"What is happening now is causing great unrest and incomprehension for many candidates.
"It is an insolence not to give the candidates enough time to get the documents - the Board had an advantage here."
Tom Goegebuer, the Belgian standing for a seat on the Board, said that candidates effectively had four working days to prepare the documents.
Mihajlovic raised the inequality issue by pointing out that nations with e-government services would swiftly be able to produce documents that others in less technologically advanced countries would not.
"In this way, candidates would be in an unequal position," he said.
"It would put us in a situation where the outcome of these elections depends on the speed of collecting documents and not on the quality of the candidates."
Mavromati explained that the interim rules had to comply "not only with binding Swiss law but also with the current IWF Constitution, not least due to the IWF firm decision to hold the Electoral Congress before the enactment of the new Constitution and notwithstanding our EDC's strong recommendation to have the elections after the new Constitution."
Independent experts on the Reform and Governance Commission also told the Board in strong terms that the elections should be held after the new Constitution had been adopted.
Despite criticism from Thomas Bach, the IOC President, about its failure to heed independent advice, the IWF Board ignored the views of both Commissions.
Mavromati also explained why a 10-year limit on individual doping offences had been written into the rules, a decision that put Russia’s Maxim Agapitov in the clear.
Agapitov, a current Board member and election candidate, was suspended for two years in the 1990s.
"The EDC studied this matter very closely and unanimously concluded not to apply a lifetime ban against candidates with any kind of historic doping offences at any point in their lives, since this would be excessive and challengeable in court," Mavromati said.
Some candidates had pointed out that Artem Patsev, a Russian lawyer who has assisted Agapitov at meetings, including on the IWF Board, appears under a list of "collaborations" on the website of SportLegis, the company for which Mavromati works.
In a written reply to a query from insidethegames, Mavromati stated: "For the avoidance of any doubt, I wish to make the following matters very clear to you:
"While I have in the past collaborated in a professional capacity with Mr Patsev, no such collaborations had anything at all to do with the IWF, Mr Agapitov, or the sport of weightlifting.
"Any professional collaborations between me and Mr Patsev are finalised, and no collaborations are ongoing.
"These matters of my past professional collaborations with Mr Patsev are transparently disclosed on the SportLegis website, and I have also fully disclosed such matters to my fellow members of the EDC.
"The entire EDC (who are all copied on this email) are unanimously and fully satisfied that there is no conflict of interest (neither perceived nor real) in my role as chair of the EDC.
"I have not at any time discussed, with either Mr Patsev or Mr Agapitov, any of the work undertaken by the EDC.
"I have never discussed, with either Mr Patsev or Mr Agapitov, any matter relating to the personal circumstances of Mr Agapitov and any effect on his candidacy in the upcoming IWF elections."
Another candidate who benefits from the 10-year limit is Stian Grimseth of Norway, who was controversially suspended for a doping violation at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, one of three Olympic appearances he made for Norway.
The 15-month suspension was imposed despite Grimseth showing he had not knowingly taken a prohibited substance, and years later he won a compensation case against a supplement manufacturer.
In 2016 Grimseth was told live on Norwegian television by David Howman, then general secretary of the World Anti-Doping Agency: "What happened (to you) would not happen now.
"You would get away with a warning because you did not commit an offence with any intent."
Grimseth, who is running for President, said of the new rules: "I really support the idea of vetting, but I have some problems understanding the process from the IWF Board.
"To organise all this documentation in such short time will be difficult even in Norway, I believe that in some countries even impossible."
Grimseth said a new Constitution should be adopted before the elections.
"Our sport needs that we act, but I think this is running too fast regarding the election process.
"A good model for vetting needs to be organised and should also be implemented in the continental and even National Federations."