North Korean weightlifters such as two-time Olympic medallist Om Yun-chol will miss this year's World Championships ©Getty Images

North Korea has won far more Olympic medals in weightlifting than any other sport but it has not entered the opening qualifying event for Paris 2024 and appears likely to miss the Olympic Games for a second time.

The North Koreans' absence from the entry list for this year's International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) World Championships, confirmed by the IWF today, comes at a time when the sport's governing body is tightening its anti-doping rules.

The IWF World Championships, which start in Bogotá in Colombia in eight weeks, is the first qualifying competition for Paris and has so far attracted more than 1,200 preliminary entries.

"When the Executive Board agreed in principle last week to exclude countries where it is not possible to conduct free anti-doping controls, it was a historical change of direction in our fight against doping," said Antonio Urso, general secretary of the IWF.

"All countries with blocked borders will be out, not just from qualifying competitions for Paris but from any international event."

Urso, speaking to insidethegames at the Asian Weightlifting Championships in Bahrain, said that a further change to athletes' whereabouts rules - subject to approval from the IWF Athletes' Commission - was another move in the right direction.

Athletes must now let testers know where they are three months before a competition rather than two.

That change, coupled with tweaks to the qualifying calendar, means that athletes will effectively have no chance of hiding themselves away from testers - as happened in the past - and will have to let the testing authorities know where they are throughout almost the entire qualifying period, which began in August and ends on April 28 2024.

Whether North Korea's absence from the IWF World Championships, which run from December 5 to 16 in Bogotá, is a direct result of the rule changes is not known.

"At the moment we have no information from North Korea," said Urso.

The country missed the delayed Tokyo 2020 Games because of a self-imposed travel ban during the COVID-19 pandemic.

IWF general secretary Antonio Urso believes the new rules are a step in the right direction ©IWF/Dan Kent
IWF general secretary Antonio Urso believes the new rules are a step in the right direction ©IWF/Dan Kent

North Korea won five gold medals in weightlifting in its past three Olympic Games appearances between 2008 and 2016, and its athletes currently hold five world records.

The IWF is focusing on anti-doping and governance as it tries to win back favour from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and to regain its place on the Games schedule after the IOC dropped the sport for Los Angeles 2028.

Significant improvements must be made before Paris qualifying begins, and a series of plans involving anti-doping, finance, communications and sport innovation will be put before a special Congress in Bogota on December 4.

Urso disagreed with Yousef Al Mana, President of the Asian Weightlifting Federation and an IWF Board member, who complained this week that time and money was being wasted.

"I am happy that the situation is improving," said Urso, who had outlined the importance of swiftly overhauling the IWF’s anti-doping rules and governance in an interview with insidethegames in August

"I think the Executive Board understands the message: We have to be in a good position for the IOC by the first week of December.

"At the special Congress we will have various proposals and the members must be involved in this evolution."

Urso said member federations must take more responsibility on anti-doping.

"If a nation decides to change the rules the system will fall, like Babylon."

One important change already made concerns finance, and putting checks on how the IWF's money is spent after revelations in the McLaren Report in 2020 that more than $10million (£9 million/€10.3 million) had gone missing when the IWF’s former leader Tamás Aján was in control.

"We have changed completely, for the first time, the model of financial governance within the IWF," said Urso, whose role includes being treasurer for the IWF.

North Korean Rim Jong-sim is a reigning Asian Games champion and world record-holder ©Getty Images
North Korean Rim Jong-sim is a reigning Asian Games champion and world record-holder ©Getty Images

"The McLaren Report suggested we should change and we have done that."

A new set-up allows everybody on the Board to see what is happening to the governing body’s money and check on “the economic and financial situation of the IWF," Urso said.

"This is very important - the first time that people can have access to financial activities."

Due diligence will be carried out for the past six months, including the period immediately before the elections, at Urso’s request "for various reasons".

He said that a deeper investigation covering a period of years, as requested by Al Mana, was not currently possible because so many documents had been taken by Hungarian police, who are carrying out a criminal investigation into the IWF's past activities.

There will be an update in Bogotá on communications strategy and the newly-created Sport Innovation Commission's work, aimed at reforming the image of weightlifting.

"We will study up to Paris 2024 and see how it's possible to reform our sport, make it more spectacular and easier to sell the image of weightlifting in the media and the audience," Urso said.

"We want them them to concentrate on how to improve our competitions.

"Before Paris, there could be some innovative competitions [not part of the qualifying programme].

"Our rules are very old.

"If you look at the panorama of sport, many others have changed, innovated.

"We need to do that ourselves so that we will start the next Olympic cycle with a completely new weightlifting."