Brian Oliver

This is a big week for teenager Celine Delia, an Italian who goes straight into the big time on Wednesday (September 6) in the women’s 55 kilograms A Group at the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) World Championships, her debut as a senior.

Two days after the biggest competition of her life, Delia will celebrate her 18th birthday.

Seastiano Corbu, Italy’s technical director said: "Celine is a very strong girl, the results show it, and she has improved a lot in recent months.

"It’s time to make her feel the thrill of the big stage because we think that in the next four years it will be up to her to try for qualification."

He does not need to specify what he means, because everybody in weightlifting understands that "qualification" in the next four years means the Los Angeles 2028 Olympic Games.

But as of now, weightlifting is not on the programme for LA 2028.

It was removed along with boxing and modern pentathlon by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at the end of 2021 and there has been no update since then.

After a series of doping and corruption scandals, coupled with poor governance by the old regime at the IWF, the IOC President Thomas Bach said 21 months ago that nothing short of "a change of culture" at the governing body would persuade the IOC to bring weightlifting back.

Perhaps there will be an update this week.

On September 6, at about the same time as Delia goes into action, the IOC’s Sport Programme Commission will meet to discuss plans for LA 2028, and is expected to pass on its recommendations higher up the IOC’s chain of command.

Celine Delia is set to make her debut in the women's 55 kilograms A group at the IWF World Championships in Riyadh, which begin tomorrow ©FIPE
Celine Delia is set to make her debut in the women's 55 kilograms A group at the IWF World Championships in Riyadh, which begin tomorrow ©FIPE

On Friday (September 8), Delia’s birthday, the IOC Executive Board meets. It would be no surprise if weightlifting’s future is on the agenda.

Has the IWF shown signs of a "culture change" since Bach’s comments? Unquestionably, yes.

Sadly, if you ask the same question about the "doping nations" that caused so much trouble in the past, the answer in far too many cases is "No".

Kazakhstan is under threat of exclusion from Paris 2024 because of multiple doping violations in the past year, as are Ukraine, Turkey, Turkmenistan and Pakistan.

The International Testing Agency (ITA), which handles all anti-doping procedures for the IWF, has announced 40 doping violations since the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games just over two years ago, as well as many more historic cases dating back as far as 2012.

Doping is still a blight on weightlifting because so many people in the sport, many of them coaches and others working at National Federations, are impervious to any "culture change".

The IWF is doing something about that with its new coaching licence scheme, which will bring coaches under tighter control and even keep them out of the sport when appropriate.

That is one of a number of reforms made by the IWF since its new leadership took over in June last year - President Mohammed Jalood, general secretary Antonio Urso, first vice-president Ursula Papandrea and a new Executive Board featuring a better gender balance.

Other improvements include a long-term agreement with the ITA that prevents the IWF interfering in anti-doping decisions, meaningful athlete representation on the Board, creating a "roadmap for the future" in the form of a Strategic Plan that will shape weightlifting’s direction from 2024 to 2032, updating and simplifying the Constitution, establishing a refugee team, forming a gender policy, setting up coaching and education academies around the world, and establishing a support programme for athletes who most need help with funding during Olympic qualifying.

IWF President Mohammed Jalood said the 2023 World Championships in Riyadh would be significant for the sport both on and off the field of play ©IWF
IWF President Mohammed Jalood said the 2023 World Championships in Riyadh would be significant for the sport both on and off the field of play ©IWF

There is more, some of which might sound dull - appointing a safeguarding and integrity officer and adopting a human rights and non-discriminatory policy - but it all helps towards giving the new IWF something the old IWF lacked, namely good governance.

Levels of collaboration are off the scale compared to a few years ago. The Strategic Plan was drawn up after the widest consultation in the sport’s history, seeking views from more than 250 National Federations and stakeholders from inside and outside the IWF.

It will be presented, along with the new IWF Constitution, to Congress during the World Championships on September 12, immediately after two days of Executive Board meetings.

There is the perennial problem of doping to deal with, and an enormous amount of work still to be done - website, branding, marketing, sponsorships, broadcasting, development, new competition formats and rules, and more. Much of it may be covered by the Strategic Plan.

Speaking ahead of the key meetings, IWF President Jalood said: "Riyadh will be a momentous occasion for the IWF both on and off the field of play.

"We will celebrate the world’s very best athletes as they compete for world titles and all-important Paris 2024 qualification.

"And away from the competition our Congress and Executive Board will take important decisions to safeguard our athletes and deliver the strongest possible future for our sport…. clean athletes and good governance are at the heart of our work."

As for doping, one social media commentator said last week after the latest suspension was announced by the ITA: "It will take decades to change the culture in some countries."

A less pessimistic view came from Urso after Kazakhstan had five athletes provisionally suspended in July.

"The IWF is fully committed to eradicating doping from our sport.

Andreea Cotruta is among the teenagers set to be in action at the IWF World Championships in Riyadh ©Brian Oliver
Andreea Cotruta is among the teenagers set to be in action at the IWF World Championships in Riyadh ©Brian Oliver

"All those who haven't understood yet our firm determination and who continue to cheat will of course be exposed to the full range of sanctions stipulated in our strict rules.

"The few not abiding by the rules should know by now that increased scrutiny and reinforced testing will not facilitate their reprehensible task."

Urso’s "increased scrutiny" comment is appropriate as far as recent testing goes.

Of those 40 post-Tokyo doping violations, 13 were for the same substance, SARMS (selective androgen receptor modulators) which featured only once in the previous 20 years of sample analysis at international level. The testing science is improving and that is bad news for dopers.

When the IOC approved a programme of 28 sports for LA 2028 in February 2022, it did so with a "strong focus on youth."

Weightlifting, not among the 28, is growing in popularity worldwide, especially among women.

It will have strong medal contenders from all parts of the world in Riyadh and, if it is there, at Los Angeles 2028 because it is a sport with a truly global reach.

It has the "strong focus on youth" that the IOC is striving for, which is clear to see in Celine Delia’s 55kg A Group on September 6.

Four other teenagers will be lifting alongside her - European senior champion Andreea Cotruta from Romania, Asian junior champion Chen Guan-Ling from Chinese Taipei, world junior medallist Jamila Panfilova from Uzbekistan and last year’s European youth champion Aleksandra Grigoryan from Armenia.

These women, and many more youngsters competing in Riyadh, are weightlifting’s future.

They, and their sport, deserve to hear some good news from the IOC.