Antonio Urso will tell IWF members they have a role to play in preserving the sport's Olympic status ©IWF/Dan Kent

Members of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) will be told this weekend that the sport's chances of regaining its Olympic status are very much alive.

But those members must themselves play their part in persuading the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to change its mind, said the IWF general secretary Antonio Urso.

The IOC ditched weightlifting from the Los Angeles 2028 programme last December after a doping-related corruption scandal and a period of poor governance in which the IWF, at one point, had three leaders in three days.

The "Old Guard" on the IWF Executive Board, most of whom have since been voted out of office or banned, were held responsible by the IOC, which described the IWF as its "problem child" and said it would leave the way open for weightlifting to return only if its governing body undertook a "culture change".

That culture change is already happening, Urso told insidethegames in the build-up to the IWF World Championships in Bogotá, Colombia, which will run for 12 days from Monday (December 5).

Before the lifting starts the IWF is holding a Special Congress in the Colombian capital on Sunday (December 4).

While procedural decisions must be ratified by members' votes, the Congress will be "more a chance for us to inform them what is happening", said Urso, who was elected in the last week of June when Mohamed Jalood became IWF President and a new Executive Board was voted in, featuring five women.

A new strategy on doping, which remains the biggest potential problem for the IWF despite the fact that there were zero positives at the Tokyo Olympic Games, will be in force to tie in with the World Championships, the first event in qualifying for Paris.

"This is an enormous project," said Urso, whose long-term planning envisions "a new weightlifting" if and when the next Olympic cycle starts after Paris.

Antonio Urso claims weightlifting is
Antonio Urso claims weightlifting is "in a good position" for an Olympic return ©Antonio Urso

"Considering how little time we have had we are doing a good job, we have had a lot of good results," Urso said.

"A few days ago we had an informal meeting with the IOC to update them on our activity, and as far as their requests for change go, we are in a good position."

Of the milestones on the IWF's roadmap for change, the first and most important is all about the perennial problem of doping.

The IWF Board voted unanimously to "stop countries where it is not possible to test out of competition", Urso said, which may or may not explain why North Korea has not entered a team for the World Championships.

The International Testing Agency (ITA), which carries out all anti-doping procedures for the IWF, is adopting a new strategy and will focus more on out-of-competition testing and intelligence-related targeting of national teams and individual athletes.

"This has been my request for a long time," said Urso, who had complained of doping-related corruption at the IWF for a dozen years, during which time he was twice beaten in Presidential elections by Tamás Aján, the Hungarian who was forced to resign as President in 2020.

"In the past there was more in-competition testing than out-of-competition, which is not the correct way.

"We asked ITA to change this as soon as possible because we need the new strategy in place before qualifying begins for Paris.

"It's not just the number of tests.

"We want more checking and following of athletes… the ITA is increasing its intelligence-based activity.

"In my speech to the Special Congress on Sunday I will empahasise that the IWF can do a lot, but the National Federations must play their part.

"In this Olympic cycle we need not just the IWF to change, but its members.

"They must follow the anti-doping rules, support the new strategy.

"The IOC expects it.

"Zero positives in Tokyo was just the first step."

North Korea is among countries under extra scrutiny because of weightlifting's new anti-doping riles ©Getty Images
North Korea is among countries under extra scrutiny because of weightlifting's new anti-doping riles ©Getty Images

Urso also pointed out that in a clean sport "we will see more nations winning medals".

He said, "I have been looking at international and continental competitions and now 40 to 45 per cent of competing nations are winning medals.

"Every time a nation wins a medal it can lead to good publicity in the media, to support and funding from the National Olympic Committee."

Another significant change is the closing down of the IWF’s Budapest offices, which have been in use for 40 years, and relocating the headquarters to the "Olympic city" of Lausanne.

This severs ties with the past - Aján, a Hungarian, governed the sport from Budapest - and will lead to the creation of a new secretariat for the governing body.

Some members of staff will move to Lausanne, others have resigned, new roles are being created and new appointments are being made.

"There will be more interviews and more recruitment in December, after the World Championships," said Urso, President of the Italian Weightlifting Federation, who will also open an IWF satellite office near his home in San Marino in January.

Other countries have offered to provide satellite offices and the IWF President, Jalood, is in discussions with them.

All this costs money but, said Urso, the financial situation of the IWF is good.

He will report to members on Sunday and did not go into details but said due diligence had been carried out by a specialist company which completed the task this week.

"There were no surprises - we knew what to expect," he said.

A new software system is being used which, in another significant change from past practice, provides transparency on where the IWF's money is spent.

One of the main tasks over the weekend is to finalise the calendar for 2023, a process that has been delayed because of the welter of other work since the elections.

Weightlifting is not on the provisional programme for the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics ©Getty Images
Weightlifting is not on the provisional programme for the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics ©Getty Images

The lack of information on forthcoming competitions, especially those within the Paris 2024 qualifying system, was highlighted by the American teenager Hampton Morris, a multiple youth and junior champion and world record-holder who is one of 21 candidates standing for the 10 places on the new IWF Athletes' Commission.

"We’re going into 2023 and we don’t really know what the schedule is," said Morris.

"It has been very difficult," said Urso.

"We had planned to visit Cuba and Mexico [hosts for IWF Grand Prix and Junior World Championships next year], but because of so many other things to deal with, and organising the Bogotá World Championship, it has not happened."

The original dates of various qualifying events have been tweaked along with the qualifying system for Paris, to ensure that athletes must be available for testing throughout the qualifying period.

The next qualifying event after Colombia - where Athletes' Commission elections run concurrently with the competition - is likely to be one of the continental championships, possibly the Europeans in Armenia in April or the Pan Americans in late March if that event, rather than the Pan American Games in October, is chosen as the qualifier.

A new constitution is one of the big projects for 2023, along with improved governance and building a new secretariat.

The IWF will meet with lawyers in the first week of January "to discuss what we want from a new Constitution and set out a timeline", said Urso

It will be presented and adopted at the IWF Congress before the 2023 World Championships in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia next October.

The current constitution, said Urso, is a rewritten version of an older one that was itself an updated version of a previous one.

"We have more articles than the IOC, more than FIFA," he said.

"We need to make it simpler.

"For example, there is currently a six-month notice period for changes.

"That is far too long - we don't enough know what will be happening in the world in six months' time."

Closing offices in Budapest is one example of the IWF seeking to move on from disgraced former President Tamás Aján ©Getty Images
Closing offices in Budapest is one example of the IWF seeking to move on from disgraced former President Tamás Aján ©Getty Images

There will be a meeting of the five continental Presidents in Bogotá to discuss ways of making the IWF’s relationship with the continents work more efficiently.

"We want to understand the specific needs and priorities of each continent - for example in Oceania travel is a big challenge, but in another part of the world it is something else," said Urso, who was a long-term president of the European Weightlifting Federation.

Changing the way weightlifting is presented is more of a long-term goal, for beyond Paris, although there may be innovative competitions within the next two years.

Ursula Papandrea, the American who led reforms after Aján's exit in 2020 before effectively being pushed out of her role as the IWF's Interim President six months later, chairs a new commission dealing with innovation and sport presentation.

Urso spoke of the possibility of collaborating with CrossFit and other sports in the future in an attempt to attract younger people to weightlifting.

"We need to be more spectacular," he said.

"From here we will rebuild everything - we are at the start point, we will go where we choose to go.

"In a short time we have changed the message.

"Not long ago all the news was negative - now the image is completely new.

"I am really happy with the job we are doing.

"There will be a new weightlifting after 2024."