Three men who have held senior roles in weightlifting throughout the 21st century have been charged as a result of the shocking findings of an eight-month investigation into doping corruption, negligence and cover-ups in weightlifting.
The men charged are Tamás Aján, who resigned last year after 44 years as general secretary and President of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF), IWF vice-president Nicu Vlad of Romania and Hasan Akkus of Turkey, who also sits on the IWF Executive Board in his capacity as President of the European Weightlifting Federation (EWF).
The investigation is likely to lead to Turkey being banned from competing at the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games which start next month, and for which it has qualified three athletes.
The Turkish Federation, of which Akkus was President at the time, is accused of colluding with the IWF to try to avoid being punished for having 17 athletes test positive in the last two months of 2012.
Turkey has been referred to the IWF’s independent sanctions panel for punishment for its historic offence.
Earlier in 2012 a Romanian athlete won a silver medal at the London Olympic Games within weeks of two offences - testing positive for steroids and swapping a urine sample.
She competed and won the medal "with the full knowledge and complicity" of Aján and Vlad, who like Akkus have been charged by the International Testing Agency (ITA), which has carried out all anti-doping procedures for the IWF since last year.
The athlete, Roxana Cocos, was provisionally suspended for both offences at the time - yet she was allowed to compete by the IWF when Aján was President, and her National Federation (FRH), which was led by Vlad.
The investigation focused on unprocessed doping violations between 2009 and 2019, and was launched after scandals in the sport were exposed by a German television documentary in January last year and the McLaren report into corruption in weightlifting, published in June 2020.
It started by looking at 146 unresolved doping cases since 2010, the majority of which were dealt with without controversy and many of which simply had not been recorded as closed.
But an investigation that focused on 10,000 emails, 2,000 appended files, 75 investigative or intelligence reports, 300 pages of anti-doping case reports and the evidence of 14 whistleblowers eventually unearthed shocking findings concerning Romania, Turkey, Azerbaijan and others.
It also found that the IWF was aware of sample swapping by weightlifters as long ago as 2010, yet it did nothing to stop the practice or investigate it.
The ITA showed that the IWF, under Aján’s leadership, "deliberately avoided" matching samples with their providers in an attempt to avoid scrutiny from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
So confident were Aján and Vlad, the report says, that they allowed Cocos to compete in London in the apparent belief that they could conceal her identity when samples were looked at.
The timeline of what happened in the case of Cocos shows just how bad the corruption was.
It prompted Mike Irani, Interim President of the IWF, to say today: "I am appalled by what is asserted to have been a complete betrayal of weightlifting and weightlifters by those who had been entrusted with the sport's leadership.
"To all those athletes who were cheated of the opportunity to compete fairly, I would like to offer the IWF's unreserved apology."
Vlad was, as now, a vice-president of the IWF at the time and, remarkably, chaired the Anti-Doping Committee that was supposed to work towards making weightlifting a clean sport.
On April 12, 2012, at the European Championships in Antalya, Turkey, where she won a silver medal at 69 kilograms, Cocos tested positive for steroids.
On May 10 Vlad was informed of the positive test and told that Cocos was "suspended from any weightlifting activity" while the case was being processed.
On July 20, eight days before the start of weightlifting at London 2012, the Athlete Passport Management Unit at the Cologne laboratory informed the IWF that Cocos had been involved in sample-swapping.
Samples taken out of competition in 2010 and in 2012 - less than two months before the Olympic Games - did not match those taken in-competition.
On July 24 the Cologne laboratory confirmed that it could prove Cocos had swapped samples.
Aján emailed Vlad to say: "To try and avoid any scandals right before the London Olympic Games I suggest that you reconsider this athlete’s nomination.
"There will be many tests in London as well and those controls are carried out by the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and they will release all information immediately."
On July 24 Aján further told Vlad to consider Cocos "provisionally suspended from today…therefore she shall be withdrawn from the 2012 London Olympic Games and replaced by someone else."
Nothing happened and Cocos won a silver medal in the Olympic Games while she was provisionally suspended twice.
The ITA said it had "strong reasons to think that the IWF and Vlad were fully aware that, as long as the IWF did not manually match Cocos’ positive sample to her profile in ADAMS (Anti-Doping Administration and Management System), the case could be concealed".
Both offences for which Cocos was provisionally suspended "were not pursued by the IWF" and Cocos did not compete again after London 2012, despite being only 23 when she "won" her medal.
The ITA report states: "We now know that the entire FRH delegation at the London Games was doping, since the four FRH weightlifters, Cocos included, returned AAFs (adverse analytical findings) for multiple anabolic steroids."
Cocos was disqualified, and the silver medal has not been reallocated as the athlete who would have taken it, Anna Nurmukhambetova of Kazakhstan, is herself banned for doping.
The IOC has reallocated gold and bronze medals after the disqualification of Cocos, two Belarussians and an Armenian for doping, but has left the silver medal unawarded.
Aján and Vlad have been charged under Article 2.8 of the IWF’s anti-doping rules, covering "tampering and complicity".
Only last week Romania was suspended for a year because of multiple doping violations and is banned from Tokyo 2020.
Romania also features heavily in a separate ongoing investigation by WADA, regarding sample-swapping and an alleged "organised doping and protection scheme" run by FRH.
The ITA publishes report on rule violations following a series of allegations of misconduct by the IWF, asserts ADRVs against former IWF Pres. Tamas Ajan, IWF Vice-Pres. Nicolae Vlad, and Hassan Akkus, Pres. of the European Weightlifting Confederation.— International Testing Agency (@IntTestAgency) June 24, 2021
➡️ https://t.co/fygPK597Ue pic.twitter.com/Ah7fJRG0Te
Under the terms of suspension technical officials, as well as athletes, were barred from Tokyo.
Vlad, an Olympic gold medallist in 1984, is listed as number one on the IWF’s official list of technical officials for Tokyo, in his capacity as joint technical delegate.
The other joint technical delegate is Sam Coffa of Australia.
The charge against Akkus is for "tampering in order to avoid the Turkish Weightlifting Federation (TWF) facing Article 12 sanctions" - a potential four-year ban and a fine of $500,000 (£360,000/€419,000) for offences committed in November and December 2012.
The ITA report claims that in 2013 Akkus, then President of the TWF, colluded with the IWF to change the responsible authority (responsible for results management) for 17 Turkish athletes from the IWF to the TWF.
Those athletes tested positive in November and December of 2012 in missions conducted by the IWF.
The report states: "The purpose of this plot was to avoid the TWF being sanctioned by the IWF under the regime of sanctions imposed on Member Federations in the event that multiple (doping violations) are committed by their athletes (known as Article 12 sanctions)."
These sanctions can be applied only when the cases involved are the responsibility of the IWF rather than "national" cases.
Akkus personally pleaded with Aján to "help" him, says the ITA report, "as the situation is very heavy and bad for my Federation and myself".
Akkus "tampered with the results management process by sending an email to the IWF stating that he would prepare a letter backdated to 5 November 2012 (before the IWF-ordered mission) to falsely claim that the out-of-competition tests were organised by the TWF with the IWF’s assistance".
The IWF helped him in this attempt to conceal the truth, the report says, and the 17 athletes were ultimately sanctioned by their own Federation.
"The ITA will thus also be referring the case of the TWF to the IWF Independent Member Federations Sanctioning Panel so that the consequences that should have been applied in 2012 are imposed," the ITA said.
If that happens within the next few weeks, Turkey will be banned from Tokyo 2020.
As for Azerbaijan, 18 of its weightlifters provided 23 positive samples in 2013, yet three of them were allowed to compete at the IWF World Championships when they should have been suspended.
Aján wrote to the Azerbaijan Weightlifting Federation to say the number of positives was "clearly a moral massacre regarding the athletes".
He said it had been "a terrible mistake when earlier this year I did not insist on the application of stricter sanctions on your lifters and coaches".
"The mentioned cases will not yet be published but I can no longer take the responsibility in front of the WADA and the IOC for your Federation," Aján wrote.
"What we have done for your athletes and Federation is something the IWF has never done before and not willing or able to do in the future.
"The knot tightens around my neck and my 45 years work could go down in a blink."
The IWF backdated documents to "lead WADA astray", the ITA investigation found.
The ITA confirmed that 30 cases for which the IWF was the results management authority remained unprocessed from 2009 to 2016, and 29 more cases could not be processed at all "either due to their respective statute of limitations or to samples having been discarded by laboratories".
Aján is charged with tampering and complicity for the multiple unsanctioned doping violations committed by IWF athletes before 2014 and which the ITA, on behalf of the IWF, was unable to process.
The ITA is also pursuing a case against the Thai athlete Rattikan (now Siripuch) Gulnoi, who was secretly recorded by the ARD team talking about widespread doping in Thailand, even by girls as young as 13.
It said that Gulnoi is contesting the charge but if guilty all her results from 2011 to 2017 would be expunged, including her London 2012 effort that won her a bronze medal in the women’s 53kg.
The ARD documentary also featured Dr Dorin Balmus, the Moldovan national team doctor, who was covertly recorded admitting that he used doppelgangers during sample collections.
He has been charged by the ITA with complicity in urine substitution by three Moldovan weightlifters.
The ITA said "purported statements by Dr Balmus suggest the existence of a coordinated program of urine substitution, implicating athletes, Doping Control officers and high-ranking officials".
It also came across evidence of wrongdoing which did not concern doping, including "contractual malfeasance, a fishy transfer market for athlete nationality, and indications of misappropriation and financial impropriety related to fines imposed in doping cases".
It would pass on the evidence to the appropriate authorities "for continued investigations".
The ITA revealed its investigation had been "hampered by the depth and breadth of the IWF’s past years of inaction".
The IWF said it regarded the corruption alleged in the ITA report as "historical", and said it was "fully committed" to imposing sanctions on former or current officials where appropriate.
WADA President Witold Bańka praised the ITA for its work and welcomed the input into the investigation from whistleblowers, WADA’s investigators, the McLaren Investigation team and the German broadcaster ARD.
"WADA is very disturbed by what has been revealed and will continue to work in close collaboration with the ITA and others, including law enforcement, to help reveal the full extent of the truth that was hidden for many years," he said.
"It is clear that athletes in the sport of weightlifting were betrayed by some of their administrators.
"It is a disgrace that the culture of fear, intimidation and silence was allowed to continue for so long.
"As regards any aspects of this report that can be actioned by WADA, the matter will be referred, as has been the case with all other material collected in relation to the IWF, to the Agency’s independent Compliance Review Committee for discussion and review."
To real the full report click here.