The Oceania Weightlifting Federation (OWF) is refusing a demand from its own members for elections to be held at an Extraordinary Congress.
The date for the Extraordinary Congress - which was requested by nine nations who appear to be unhappy with the way the sport is governed by their continental federation - has been set by the OWF for July 24, the opening day of competition at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
Oceania's 22 member federations were informed of the date last week, more than a month after the OWF first received a formal request to hold an Extraordinary Congress, and only after it had taken legal advice.
Over recent weeks, some replies to emails addressed to the OWF's President and general secretary, Marcus Stephen and Paul Coffa, have been sent direct by an Australian law firm.
The lawyers have "interpreted" the OWF Constitution and advised member federations that elections cannot be held until after the Olympic Games because "an Extraordinary Congress is not the same as an Annual Congress".
Jerry Wallwork, President of the Samoa Weightlifting Federation, said the legal advice was "irrelevant and unhelpful" and that lawyers had no place in the process of deciding on the OWF’s Constitutional matters.
Coffa told insidethegames that the OWF had sought legal advice "as a matter of good governance".
"At all times the Executive Board has sought to act transparently and in accordance with the Constitution," Coffa said.
Samoa is one of the nations which requested an Extraordinary Congress that should also, they say, be an Electoral Congress.
The other signatories are Fiji, New Zealand, Tonga, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, American Samoa and Guam.
On Monday (May 3) Della Shaw-Elder, President of the Weightlifting Fiji, wrote to Stephen, from Nauru, and the Australian Coffa to say, "In line with the OWF Constitution, we once again advise you to include the elections of office bearers in the agenda, as provided in the formal notice for the Extraordinary Congress.
"Article 6 of the constitution does not limit the items to be included in an Extraordinary Congress, so it may include elections.
"We urge the OWF to abide by the intent and sprit of the Constitution, that is, elections during the Olympic year at the Extraordinary Congress for which formal notice has already been provided."
Shaw-Elder also requested information regarding members’ subscriptions, copies of the minutes of the 2019 Congress - the last one held - and annual reports and audited financial statements for the past two years "so that we can review these in order to submit propositions to be included in the agenda".
Legal advice has now been sought in Fiji and Samoa, too.
In an earlier email to Stephen and Coffa, it was suggested by Wallwork that the OWF Executive Board was in danger of losing its power if it acted unconstitutionally, and if that happened "the members will then select an interim committee to run OWF affairs".
An Australian lawyer, Isaac Apel, wrote to member federations to say, "In accordance with our advice, OWF elections cannot be held at an Extraordinary Congress because the OWF Constitution provides that they can only be held at an Annual Congress."
He said an Extraordinary Congress "is not the same as an Annual Congress" and that elections "will be held at the Annual Congress in Nauru on 25 August".
Apel had earlier advised that any Congress could not be held virtually - which will now happen - because the OWF Constitution "envisages" that a Congress should be held in person.
In a private email, one of the nine signatory federations said the lawyer’s response was "rather strange".
Because of travel restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no guarantee that teams will be able to fly to Nauru in August, Wallwork said.
He also said, "There is nothing in our Constitution that limits the matters that can be dealt with at the Extraordinary Congress.
"It is therefore not open to Mr Apel to dictate to the OWF members the matters that will be dealt with at the Extraordinary Congress.
"Our OWF has not had a Congress since July 2019 in Apia during the Pacific Games.
"We are long overdue…"
In a long and detailed statement, Coffa said that the 2020 OWF Championships and Electoral Congress had been awarded to Nauru ahead of Samoa in July 2019.
The Congress and Championships were scheduled for April last year but because of the pandemic they were postponed, five weeks out.
Coffa said the agenda and reports were ready to be despatched but were not sent out one month before the Congress, as required, because of the postponement "to a later date".
Lockdowns and border closures led to further postponements, first to April this year, then to August 25 to 28.
The request for an Extraordinary Congress was received on March 27, and at a special meeting of the Executive Board four days later it was agreed to seek legal advice "as a matter of good governance" because no such request had ever been made in OWF history.
"The legal advice we received was that it is unconstitutional to hold OWF elections at any time other than at a normal Annual Congress and that an Extraordinary Congress is not an Annual Congress."