In a letter Sarah Davies has called for the resignation of the entire IWF Board ©Getty Images

Athletes’ leader Sarah Davies has told the Executive Board of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) that the sport belongs to its athletes, not those who govern it - and that its Olympic future is doomed unless the entire Board resigns.

Her message follows a personal discussion with Thomas Bach, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) President.

In the lead-up to the most important meeting in weightlifting’s history Davies accuses individual IWF Board members of being involved in state-sponsored doping and says: "The Executive Board’s actions have been chaotic and self-destructive to the point that the prevailing wisdom is that many Board members were trying to get weightlifting removed from the Olympic Games."

Davies, 29, the British chair of the IWF Athletes Commission, spoke personally to Bach at the recent Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, where she finished fifth.

She is one of the athletes who would lose a chance to compete for a medal at Paris 2024 if the sport is dropped by the IOC.

In a letter to the IWF Board, also addressed to all athletes and to Bach, Davies points out that Bach has repeatedly warned the IWF that weightlifting’s inclusion in the Olympic Games is in the balance.

"Unless you, the Executive Board, are actually trying to destroy the sport at the Olympic Games, your conduct is completely irrational," she writes.

"The Executive Board’s utter disregard of President Bach’s warnings appears to be part of a plan to destroy weightlifting as an Olympic sport.

"I had the opportunity to speak with Mr Bach in Tokyo.

"He told me that there is no way weightlifting will stay in the Games in its current form. He indicated that he wants weightlifting in the Olympics, but not in the state it is in now."

The IOC Executive Board, which was recently given the power to suspend weightlifting from the Paris 2024 Games, meets on Wednesday September 8, nine days after the IWF’s Constitutional Congress is scheduled to end in Doha, Qatar.

Adopting a new Constitution that meets the requirements of the IOC Board is a prerequisite for weightlifting’s survival on the Olympic Games programme.

But the IWF Board has gone against the IOC’s wishes by putting forward a Constitution, which it has asked members to support, that clearly contradicts the advice of independent experts and the IOC. 

IOC President Thomas Bach has reportedly said there is
IOC President Thomas Bach has reportedly said there is "no way" weightlifting will stay at the Olympics in its current form ©Getty Images

The proposed Constitution clearly favours individual IWF Board members in their quest to retain control when Bach has said publicly "we need to see a new culture in this International Federation."

Davies is critical not just of the "Old Guard" Board members, most but not all of whom are from "doping countries" - as those with the worst record in doping violations are known.

In calling for resignations en masse she says: "As for the rest of the members of the Executive Board, they too need to resign for the good of the sport if that is the demand from the IOC.

"The weightlifting world has not heard their voices condemning the failures of the Executive Board when they should have been openly identifying and condemning the corruption and doping culture."

Davies has herself been openly critical of the Board since being appointed chair of the new Athletes Commission last year when the American reformist Ursula Papandrea led the IWF.

When Papandrea was ousted as the IWF’s Interim President, Davies started a petition calling for the Executive Board to resign.

She later presented it to Bach, after it had been signed by 13,000 people.

Davies is especially critical of IWF Board members from nations that were banned outright from the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games because of doping violations, or who lost athlete quotas for the same reason.

Every one of them put their names forward as candidates earlier this year for re-election to the Board, or even for the IWF Presidency, before the elections were postponed to a date yet to be announced.

Nicu Vlad of Romania and Intarat Yodbangtoey of Thailand appear to be the main targets of the Athletes Commission’s ire.

Davies’ letter, in edited form and addressed directly to the IWF Board, states: "Because of the timing of this letter and the rapidity at which the situation developed, the Athletes Commission was not able to convene a meeting that would have provided a full vote. A majority of Commission members have responded and support the statements herein.

"At this point in the history of the International Weightlifting Federation, we are facing a fight for our survival.

Nicu Vlad is considered one of the main targets of the IWF Athletes Commission's frustrations ©Mediafax
Nicu Vlad is considered one of the main targets of the IWF Athletes Commission's frustrations ©Mediafax

"As chair of the IWF Athletes Commission, I am representing the athletes of the IWF. The athletes - without whom weightlifting would not exist - demand that the current Executive Board resign and cooperate with the changes demanded by the IOC. I am signing the letter with the support of the Athletes Commission.

"For the past 40 years, the sport has been controlled by a series of corrupt individuals driven by self-interest with no regard toward the long-term viability of the organisation.

"Unfortunately, for most of that time, those efforts were rewarded; thereby reinforcing the behaviour until it has become so entrenched that it is not clear it will ever be corrected. The only solution is complete regime change.

"In early 2020, the German documentary Lord of the Lifters was released. The film put the brazen corruption of Tamás Aján on display for the world to see.

"The ARD documentary opened the world’s eyes to the sleazy, corrupt nature of weightlifting.

"In response to the documentary, the IWF Executive Board took a positive step to create an Oversight & Integrity Commission, suspended Aján’s powers for 90 days, and appointed Ursula Papandrea as the acting IWF President.

"Despite significant resistance from Aján loyalists in the IWF, Papandrea was able to provide a glimmer of hope that weightlifting might, in fact, be saved. The Executive Board took another positive step on January 31, 2020, in appointing Prof Richard McLaren to conduct an investigation into the allegations.

"The McLaren Report was released on June 4, 2020. During the investigation, Prof McLaren noted that ‘certain members of the EB and Presidents of Member Federations were frustrating the evidence gathering…’

"The IWF quickly descended back into the quagmire with the Aján loyalists preventing any investigation into their misconduct.

"The refusal to work with the investigator was a specific violation of the terms of reference, which required the Executive Board members to cooperate. Only two of the vice-presidents, two of the other Executive Board members, and one Continental Federation President, spoke with investigators. One actually refused to speak.

"The Acting President, Papandrea, spoke with investigators. Out of 21 Executive Board members, only five participated in the investigation. Unfortunately, it is not known generally which five cooperated but it is clear that 16 tried to obstruct the process by not testifying.

"Dr Aján resigned as President in April 2020.

"During my tenure in the Executive Board, I know the Board treated Papandrea with profound and prolonged disrespect. Over the course of the summer (Papandrea) attempted to begin the reform process, instituting the Athletes Commission and the Reform and Governance Commission (RGC).

Sarah Davies was critical of Intarat Yodbangtoey of Thailand in her letter ©IWF
Sarah Davies was critical of Intarat Yodbangtoey of Thailand in her letter ©IWF

"As a result of making meaningful reform, certain members of the Executive Board, led by Nicu Vlad, summarily removed Papandrea (as Interim President) in October 2020.

"The only encouraging action since October was the work of Darren Kane as chair of the RGC. While further changes in athlete representation and anti-doping punishments should be included (in the new Constitution), Mr Kane is clearly motivated by a desire to institute meaningful reform.

"I assume you understand that without your removal, weightlifting will not be in the Paris Olympic Games.

"It is imperative that we make the changes the IOC proscribes.

"When Aján was removed, the world weightlifting community had, for a very short time, hope. In hindsight, that hope was evidence of a misplaced trust in the Executive Board.

"They have not only shown a level of corruption that will destroy weightlifting, but have actually shown disdain for the IOC that will remove weightlifting from the Olympic programme.

"Individuals at the highest levels of the IWF have stated that only athletes should be punished for doping, not nations.

"That idea ignores the realities of positive tests at the international level. If an athlete tests positive at an international event, the member federation clearly was not testing (or not testing adequately) either in-competition or out-of-competition.

"Yes, there may be the occasional athlete who evades tests at the national level and tests positive internationally, but multiple athletes testing positive only at international events is a clear indication that there is no anti-doping going on in the member federation. Not just the athlete, but the entire federation must be punished.

"Furthering the IWF’s credibility problems with doping is that fact that a significant number of Executive Board members are from member federations who are banned from international competitions as a result of state-sponsored doping."

IWF Executive Board member Maxim Agapitov was also criticised in Sarah Davies letter ©ITG
IWF Executive Board member Maxim Agapitov was also criticised in Sarah Davies letter ©ITG

Davies then names Intarat Yodbangtoey of Thailand and points out: "His nation was banned from the Olympics for doping. In the ARD documentary, Thai lifters as young as 13 years old were openly doping. Thailand tried to skirt the rules by voluntarily sanctioning themselves, then attempting to reverse course."

She says of Vlad: "I will not speculate as to whether Nicu Vlad’s success as a weightlifter (he was an Olympic champion in 1984) was due in large part to a state-sponsored doping protocol.

"Romania has been banned from the Tokyo 2020 Olympics for doping violations. Mr. Vlad is, by all accounts, one of the kingpins of the group causing most of the problems at the IWF."

Vlad was recently charged with a serious doping violation and has "stepped aside" from his IWF duties.

Davies continues, in running through the IWF’s "problematic" Board members: "Zhanat Tussupbekov, vice-president, is from Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan has been a hotbed of doping violations for years, including the very high profile case of Ilya Ilyin.

"Jose Quinones, vice-president, is from Peru. While Peru has not been implicated in doping scandals, Mr Quinones… was banned by his own country for corruption and mismanagement of funds.

"Birenda Prasad Baishya, Executive Board member, is from India. India’s allotment was reduced in the Tokyo Games (for doping).

"Maxim Agapitov, Executive Board member, is from Russia. Russia has long been a bastion of doping, including a scandal that rocked the entire sporting world from the Sochi Olympics.

"Although Mr Agapitov may have inherited the problem and seems to be making progress in anti-doping in Russia, all tainted nations must be removed from the Executive Board until such time as credibility and good governance are established.

"Shakhrillo Makhmudov, Executive Board member, is from Uzbekistan, a nation which, like India, had a reduced number of lifters in Tokyo as a result of doping violations.

Davies said the only encouraging work was done by the Reform and Governance Commission, led by Darren Kane ©Darren Kane
Davies said the only encouraging work was done by the Reform and Governance Commission, led by Darren Kane ©Darren Kane

"Kamal Mahmoud Mahgoub, Executive Board member, is from Egypt. Egypt, like Thailand, was completely banned from participating in the Tokyo Olympics.

"With so many members of the Executive Board serving from banned countries, it is small wonder that anti-doping remains at the forefront of the IOC’s concerns regarding the IWF.

"This organisation cannot credibly address anti-doping concerns while any of these individuals are serving on the Executive Board - or allowed to participate at all.

"There also seems to be a sentiment by certain members of the Executive Board that ‘this is our sport’ and we do not need to listen to the IOC. Let me be perfectly clear - this sport belongs to the athletes, not the Executive Board.

"We want to abide by the IOC mandates. We want to reform the Constitution to ensure we are in Paris.

"The IWF desperately needs a new Executive Board to facilitate the implementation of meaningful reform - as demanded by the IOC.

"That Board needs to be drawn from members from non-doping nations and must include athletes in order to be credible. The athletes of the IWF demand this action to be taken.

"Mr Kane acknowledged last year that, ‘It’s going to be a dangerous proposition to include people in the Executive Board going forward if they are in any way tainted by the past.’ Those words are turning out to be somewhat prophetic.

"For years, the assumption was that the IOC would not really remove weightlifting from the Olympic Games. After all, it is one of the original sports in the modern Olympics.

"The recent actions of the IOC lead to the inevitable conclusion that they will, in fact, remove weightlifting completely if their demands are not met.

"You have the dreams of thousands of athletes worldwide in your hands. You have but one option that will convince the IOC that you are willing to allow the IWF to make the change needed to save our sport - resign and do everything in your power to make sure an acceptable Constitution is adopted."