Chair of the IWF's Reform and Governance Commission has expressed his disappointment that the Commission has been disbanded before it has completed its work ©Darren Kane

The Executive Board of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) has disbanded the Commission it set up to reform the sport before it has finished its job.

Instead it has decided to create a new body and has told the independent experts on the Reform and Governance Commission (RGC), who were tasked with drawing up a new Constitution, that their services are no longer required.

The final version of the Constitution will be approved by the IWF Board with no further input from the independent specialists who were appointed to create it - two prominent sports lawyers and a vice-president of World Athletics.

Darren Kane, the Australian lawyer who chaired the now defunct Commission, told insidethegames he was "disappointed that the RGC cannot complete its important work."

What the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will make of the controversial decision remains to be seen.

Given its repeated criticisms of the IWF in recent months, including specific references to the Board’s reluctance or refusal to accept independent advice, its response is unlikely to be favourable - especially if the new body features "independent" advisers with links to the IWF.

There are suggestions that this might be the case, though no details have been announced and the IWF’s Interim President, Mike Irani, did not respond to a request for comment from insidethegames.

Up to seven members of the IWF Board would face eligibility issues over their place on the Board or as candidates in the elections later this year should the Constitution be adopted as written by Kane and the RGC’s other two independent members, Damaris Young of Panama and Ximena Restrepo of Colombia.

Those Board members could be ruled ineligible for a range of reasons outlined in the new Constitution, including age, the consequences of doping on an individual and national level, and other integrity issues.

Three of them, Sam Coffa of Australia, Jose Quinones of Peru, and Maxim Agapitov of Russia, sit as IWF members on the RGC and voted in February to approve the Constitution as it stands.

Reformers fear that eligibility rules will now be weakened along with other parts of the proposed Constitution.

They believe the Board will amend the document to suit their own needs, and that getting rid of its authors before their work is finished is the first step.

The American Ursula Papandrea, who was involved in creating the RGC last year when she was Interim President of the IWF, said: "Unfortunately, the Board continues to undervalue the need to fully commit to independent-led reform.

"The role of the independents in reform was not just for consultation.

Ximena Restrepo was one of three independent members of the IWF's Reform and Governance Commission, which has now been disbanded ©World Athletics
Ximena Restrepo was one of three independent members of the IWF's Reform and Governance Commission, which has now been disbanded ©World Athletics

"They were to lead the reform and are integral to the entire process.

"External oversight ensures accountability, and the presence of independent direction in all steps creates the openness and transparency the reform process requires.

"The irony is that the IWF has now managed to offend two basic principles of good governance while working to improve governance."

Papandrea, who was removed from office by the Board last October added: "My concern is that the removal of independent leadership presents an opportunity to substantively change some of the work done.

"I truly hope this does not happen."

Kane, a member of the legal committee of FINA, the governing body of swimming, spent more than four months working on the new Constitution.

He told insidethegames: "On 3 April 2021 I received two letters from the IWF Interim President and IWF General Secretary, each dated 1 April 2021.

"In those letters I was notified that the IWF Executive Board has decided not to extend the Reform and Governance Commission’s mandate beyond February 28 2021.

"The letters also informed that the Executive Board has established a new Constitution Taskforce.

"What this means is that the RGC cannot complete its work to bring about significant structural and governance reform to the IWF.

"As the chair of the RGC I am of the view that its job is only part-done, and I am disappointed that the RGC cannot now complete its vitally important work."

The IOC has repeatedly warned the IWF that weightlifting’s place on the Olympic Games programme is under threat because of its governance failings.

Critics say that in taking this latest decision the IWF Board is not just ignoring independent advice from the reform experts, it is refusing even to listen to it.

The Board also appears to be contravening its own rules as drawn up in the Terms of Reference for the RGC, which state: "The RGC’s Independent members will need to complete its mandate in time for its final recommendations to be presented for approval by February 28, 2021.

"However, if more time is required to ensure the new IWF Governance Framework meets the objective set out above (in the Terms of reference document) an extension of the above deadline will be agreed by the IWF Executive Board."

Australian Sam Coffa was one of seven IWF Board members to feature on the Reform and Governance Commission ©Sam Coffa
Australian Sam Coffa was one of seven IWF Board members to feature on the Reform and Governance Commission ©Sam Coffa

The Board has failed to agree a new deadline.

An extension became necessary when the IWF Board pushed back the date of the Constitutional Congress by more than three months, from late March to June 30.

A period of consultation ended on March 31, by when dozens of member federations had sent in suggested amendments to the document drawn up by the RGC, which was presented to the Board on February 25.

Other key stakeholders, including the IOC, have been consulted.

Kane is worried that all the RGC’s work will be undone if significant changes are made to the document without its authors being able to argue their case.

"It should be the task of the RGC to consider stakeholder submissions received by the IWF, concerning the RGC’s draft Constitution, which was unanimously approved by the 10-member RGC," Kane said.

"The RGC does however serve at the pleasure of the EB, and the ultimate power to make decisions about the RGC and its mandate rests squarely with the EB.

"I feel a deep responsibility to the IWF’s athletes and the sport of weightlifting, and I want nothing other than governance change, which serves the best interests of the athletes and the sport."

The RGC comprised the three independent members plus seven IWF Board members - Quinones, Coffa, Agapitov, Birendra Prasad Baishya, Marcus Stephen, Karoliina Lundahl and Khaled Mehalhel.

All 10 voted unanimously to approve the proposed Constitution in February.

The mandate required Kane, Young and Restrepo to base their reforms on the findings of the McLaren Report last year, which found evidence of widespread corruption in weightlifting.

They were asked to draw up a new Constitution and propose electoral regulations that comply "with the highest standards of good governance in international sport."