Weightlifting's future is at stake when the International Weightlifting Federation holds a virtual Constitutional Congress tomorrow ©Getty Images

In less than four weeks the weightlifting programme at the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games is due to begin.

There will be 196 weightlifters in Tokyo, a huge reduction from 260 at Rio 2016 but far more than will lift at the next Olympic Games in Paris.

The number in 2024 will be either 120 or none.

Weightlifting’s "provisional" status in Paris will become even more precarious tomorrow if the 155 - or thereabouts - eligible members of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) do not vote for reform.

At the virtual Constitutional Congress where IWF members are tasked with adopting a new way forward for the troubled sport, the wrong outcome will mean no more weightlifting at the Olympic Games after more than 100 years on the programme.

The message from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which is partly blamed by some IWF members for historically doing nothing to counter corruption within one of its core sports, is clear.

It has made clear its views to the IWF’s Interim President, Mike Irani, and general secretary, Mohammed Jalood.

If the proposed draft Constitution, drawn up by independent experts, is weakened in key areas of doping, all-round governance, and suitability of those who sit in power, the number of weightlifters in Paris will be zero.

There has been enough controversy in the sport over the past year-and-a- half and if there is more, weightlifting will look to its own World Championships as the big event, rather than the Olympic Games.

The problems started decades ago when anabolic steroids became popular, and legal.

The use of them was entrenched before the IOC became serious about trying to catch the cheats.

After the drugs were outlawed about half-a-century ago their use would occasionally provide a news story for weightlifting, for example at the Seoul 1988 or Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

Interim IWF President Mike Irani has admitted that the world governing body is at a turning point ©IWF
Interim IWF President Mike Irani has admitted that the world governing body is at a turning point ©IWF

But the extent to which National Federations, coaches, athletes and corrupt officials would go - to gain an advantage in competition, and to pay for or benefit from cover-ups - was not major news on a global scale until January 2020.

That was when ARD, the German state broadcaster, aired a documentary about corruption during the 44-year reign at the IWF of Tamás Aján, a Hungarian who is under investigation by sport bodies and law enforcement agencies.

Five months later came the McLaren Report into Weightlifting Corruption, which detailed how more than $10 million (£7 million/€8 million) had gone missing, how doping was covered up and elections were rigged.

It exposed a system that had nothing to do with protecting and promoting the sport in any meaningful way: there always had to be something in it for someone on the inside.

Since then, an attempt to reform the IWF by the American Interim President, Ursula Papandrea, after Aján left in disgrace was thwarted by her own Board.

Among those who voted her out were a Thai who oversaw his Federation through two teenage doping scandals; a Romanian who allegedly colluded with Aján to allow an athlete who was suspended to "win" an Olympic medal; another who had been banned by his National Olympic Committee; and a number of leaders of "doping nations".

The IOC, which has made several public statements about the IWF’s poor governance in recent months, has no confidence in the Board.

In February it publicly highlighted the IWF Board’s failure to make "significant changes to the culture and leadership of the IWF".

It was disappointed to see so many of them put themselves forward for re-election at a Congress that has now been delayed until after Tokyo.

The IOC wants a strong anti-doping policy in the new Constitution and that now seems a given as the IWF has put all anti-doping procedures in the hands of the International Testing Agency (ITA).

Recent rulings by the IWF’s independent sanctions panel made it clear that National Federations should and will be held responsible for multiple doping violations, regardless of their complaints about culpability.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), when it was consulted, questioned the need for "systemic doping" to be a provision in the new Constitution when sanctions for multiple offences were being considered.

The IOC also wants more input from independent experts, and it wants the IWF to act on it, which it has thus far shown a reluctance to do.

And it wants strict vetting procedures that will lead to a better calibre of leader and electoral candidate - which could lead to some tricky moments tomorrow.

Darren Kane, an Australian lawyer, led the independent group who drafted the Constitution.

Australian lawyer Darren Kane has drawn up the new IWF Constitution ©IWF
Australian lawyer Darren Kane has drawn up the new IWF Constitution ©IWF

It features term limits, age limits, and barriers against those who are deemed ethically unsuitable because of doping in their country or other reasons.

That draft Constitution was voted through unanimously by the 10 members of the IWF’s Reform and Governance Commission in February, seven of whom sit on the Executive Board.

But that was then, when it was politically expedient to be seen to take independent advice seriously.

Now the Constitution is open to amendment, and Kane - to his disbelief and disapproval - has no say in those amendments.

A booklet of proposed changes to the Constitution was produced by the IWF in the lead-up to tomorrow’s meeting.

Age limits and term limits are questioned, so is ineligibility based on a personal doping ban.

Several nations - all using precisely the same wording as Australia - want a change that effectively means if you are up to no good at a sporting body outside weightlifting, that is fine.

"At least three of those Board members who voted for the Constitution in February now want to make significant changes to suit their own agenda, not the sport’s," said one concerned onlooker.

"The IOC has specifically and clearly said ‘do not weaken the eligibility criteria’ and that is exactly what they want to do.

"It is up to the member federations to stop them doing it, but they can and do corral their friends and cronies into supporting them.

"Too many members don’t realise what is happening, or don’t care because they don’t take the IOC’s threat seriously.

"A lot of these amendments have been worded to protect the current board members, not the sport they are supposed to govern, or its athletes.

"We would be better off just taking the Constitution in its original form."

There are other hugely important issues to be agreed upon, not least athlete representation.

Sarah Davies, the chair of the IWF Athletes Commission who spoke out the "corrupt" Board’s self interest in the past, is now taking part at the Congress.

Papandrea started the ball rolling before she was voted out and athletes are on the way to having a meaningful voice.

The United States wants far, far more for the athletes - more seats, more votes, more input - whereas Yemen, Ecuador and Swaziland do not.

The IOC has made its views clear - voting rights for athletes must be part of the sport if it wants to stay on the programme.

There is a visible gender imbalance on the board, and on various commissions and committees, that needs correcting.

Ursula Papandrea tried to introduce major changes at the IWF during her brief tenure as Acting President but was thwarted by the Board ©USA Weightlifting
Ursula Papandrea tried to introduce major changes at the IWF during her brief tenure as Acting President but was thwarted by the Board ©USA Weightlifting

Besides the Member Federations, other stakeholders have contributed proposals.

They include the Olympic umbrella body Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) and the two most important bodies in dealing with doping, the WADA and the International Testing Agency.

The ITA pointed out - as did several nations - that the threshold of doping offences in a 12-month period should be three, not four, before a member federation becomes liable for suspension.

ASOIF ranked the IWF third bottom in its last review of governance by its members.

It is impressed with the draft Constitution, which it says would “represent a significant step forward for the IWF… a thorough and impressive piece of work”.

The positive steps highlighted by ASOIF included athlete representation, appointing independent members to key governance roles, term limits, eligibility and vetting rules, improved gender balance, and outsourcing investigations to an independent body.

All that is left now is for the members of the IWF to agree.

"It is crucial that the Member Federations now act pragmatically and in the interest of our sport," said Florian Sperl, President of the German Weightlifting Federation.

"We need to learn from the past...and adopt a forward-looking Constitution."

Last month Irani said in a letter to Member Federations, “It is clear that the IWF is at a turning point.

"There are significant expectations that we will come together to take advantage of this opportunity to show to the world our commitment towards reform."