Hidilyn Diaz has voiced her support for a plan to give weightlifters scholarships ©ITG

The Olympic champion Hidilyn Diaz has voiced her support for a plan to give weightlifters scholarships that would make a huge difference to their prospects in the sport.

Fifty weightlifters will be given funding to help them compete internationally - starting with qualifying events for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games - if proposals by the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) Athletes' Commission gain Executive Board approval.

In a scheme drawn up by and for athletes, the IWF would put aside $300,000 (£245,000/€285,000) to fund individuals from the less affluent parts of the world - $6,000 (£4,900/€5,700) for each individual.

"This is a very good idea," said Diaz after winning the women's 55 kilograms at the IWF World Championships in Bogotá, Colombia.

Diaz, a national hero in the Philippines after becoming its first Olympic champion in any sport last year, knows how hard it is for athletes who struggle financially.

More than 20 per cent of the population live below the international poverty line of $1.90 (£1.55/€1.80) a day and Diaz admits "we were poor" in her childhood. 

Athletes from nations with low per capita income, and with a history in weightlifting, would be prioritised in the IWF funding scheme.

"A little bit of support in the form of a scholarship from the IWF really will help a weightlifter," Diaz said.

"This is a good programme for athletes, I'm so happy to hear about it."

Hidilyn Diaz is a world and Olympic champion ©Getty Images
Hidilyn Diaz is a world and Olympic champion ©Getty Images

Diaz was especially grateful for support from the man she calls "Sir Jalood" in her early days in weightlifting back in 2007.

Mohamed Jalood, then a senior figure in the Asian Weightlifting Federation and now the IWF President, supported her financially and also helped her to compete at Beijing 2008 by gaining a "wild card" tripartite place.

"His support and encouragement meant so much to me.

"It was a very big thing at a time when other people said I could never make it," she said.

Jalood said, "I pride myself on being an advocate for all IWF athletes so I welcome this proposal for athlete scholarships.

"I support the Athletes’ Commission and I am so happy to know they are working to support the less fortunate among them."

Spending and performance would be monitored during qualifying to make sure the scholarship money, which would probably be paid direct to the athletes, is not frittered away.

Athletes would be able to spend their $500 (£410/€475) a month on coaching, access to good training facilities, lodging and living expenses, medical check-ups, insurance, and transport costs for competing, including Olympic qualification trials.

It is possible that there would be a limit on what proportion of the money could be spent on any given item.

The idea was welcomed by athletes competing in Bogotá, where the final number of entries dropped by more than 100 because of difficulties with visas and the cost of flights.

Uganda weightlifter Niyoyita Davis trains outdoors in Kampala ©Niyoyita Davis
Uganda weightlifter Niyoyita Davis trains outdoors in Kampala ©Niyoyita Davis

Two athletes from Papua New Guinea who endured a nightmare 40-hour journey and then had to wait nine hours to check in to their hotel were especially keen on help with travel expenses.

Many athletes have been contacting Forrester Osei, chair of the IWF Athletes' Commission, asking "when does it start, how do I apply?" even though the project has not been voted through yet.

The plans were outlined to delegates at the IWF’s Special Congress in Bogotá at the weekend and will be discussed by the IWF board in the next few weeks.

Diaz could be involved in the discussions by then as a member of the Athletes' Commission; she is the only female candidate from Asia in the ongoing elections and her presence on the body is assured.

Morea Baru and Dika Toua from Papua New Guinea, and Niyoyita Davis from Uganda spoke to insidethegames in the warm-up area after the men's 61kg C Group, in which Baru and Davis competed and Toua offered support with her husband Willie Tamasai, the Papua New Guinea national coach.

Money to help with travel expenses would be a godsend for athletes in the Pacific region, Baru and Toua said.

They arrived in Bogotá 40 hours after leaving their capital city, Port Moresby, and when they arrived at 6am they had to sleep in their hotel lobby because they could not check in until nine hours later.

A little money can go a long way in many parts of the world, said Toua, who knows from personal experience that a lack of it can leave athletes poorly prepared for competitions.

"This money would make such a big difference," said Davis, a Ugandan teenager who does all his training outdoors, cannot afford medical support and has to "sell stuff on the streets" to get by.

"I think it’s very hard for people from other countries to understand just how hard it is for weightlifters from Uganda to compete internationally," he said.

The proposed $500-a-month payments would be twice as much as a good job in Uganda pays, Davis said.

"It's the same in Papua New Guinea," said Baru.

IWF Athletes' Commission chair Forrester Osei said the plan for scholarships is
IWF Athletes' Commission chair Forrester Osei said the plan for scholarships is "based on necessity" ©ITG

Salim Musoke Ssenkungu, Davis' coach and President of the Uganda Weightlifting Federation - who started out with home-made barbells 40 years ago - joked, "We can't train indoors because we never know if the roof might fall in."

The IWF's first vice-president Ursula Papandrea added, "As a former non-funded athlete, I like the direction we are headed on this.

"I have seen the results these programmes can yield and it makes sense for the development of our athletes.

"The Athletes' Commission and their proposal have my full support.

"I do think we have specifics to work through and hope to have serious discussions in the coming month in order to have Executive Board approval on an elaborated IWF Direct Athlete Support programme that can alleviate some of the financial burden many of our athletes experience."

Osei said the scholarship idea had been discussed by members of the Athletes' Commission and was "based on necessity".

"The IOC does this through its Olympic Solidarity funding [which covers individual scholarships] and our objectives are similar - to give help where it is most needed.

"The IWF should divert some of its money to this project, starting with Paris 2024 and hopefully [if weightlifting is on the programme] for Los Angeles 2028.

"There has been talk of regional training centres in the future, and that could follow on from this."