The IWF Board has now lost two senior members ©Getty Images

The Executive Board of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) has been accused of putting its own members’ interests ahead of the sport’s Olympic future in a damning resignation letter by Ursula Papandrea.

The American was voted out of office as Interim President of the IWF on Tuesday but is not leaving the "chaotic" Board because of that, she says.

Her resignation as a vice-president, after nine months of "stalling, blocking and bullying" by the Board was "based on the treatment I endured at the hands of several Board members", Papandrea wrote.

"I no longer have any desire to engage with numerous members. 

"I see the intent of the Executive Board as misguided and self-serving."

She accused Board members of trying to get their hands on evidence from an investigation that implicated them in "malfeasance", and which was intended for independent oversight experts.

When she tried to remove certain Board members, her attempts were blocked, she said.

She intends to take legal action over her own removal from office.

Papandrea is the second Board member to resign within 12 hours, following the departure last night of Antonio Urso, the Italian president of the European Weightlifting Federation.

At least one more Board member is expected to follow them by resigning, leaving the sport in further turmoil as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) looks on.

Ursula Papandrea has quit the IWF Executive Board in the same week she was ousted as Interim President ©Lifting Life/USAW
Ursula Papandrea has quit the IWF Executive Board in the same week she was ousted as Interim President ©Lifting Life/USAW

In the past four days the IWF has had three different leaders, has faced severe criticism from the IOC, has been labelled "corrupt" by the chair of its own Athletes Commission and has now lost two senior Board members, both of whom played leading roles in removing Tamás Aján from the IWF.

The IOC issued a statement after Papandrea's resignation.

"The IOC refers to its previous statements, and continues to be highly concerned about the confusing decisions taken by the Board of the International Weightlifting Federation in the last few days, particularly as regards to the chosen replacements as Acting President, as well as to the global governance of the International Federation", it said.

Aján was shown to have overseen decades of corruption at the IWF - in finance, anti-doping and vote-rigging - in an independent investigation led by the Canadian professor of law Richard McLaren.

While Urso provided a welter of evidence to the McLaren investigation many of his fellow Board members were criticised for their lack of cooperation.

One of them was Intarat Yodbangtoey of Thailand, who replaced Papandrea on Tuesday and stood aside within two days, leaving the Board to appoint Mike Irani, of Britain, as Interim President.

There was widespread condemnation of the appointment of Intarat, from the IOC and within weightlifting, as he represents a nation that has a long history of doping and is banned from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

When the McLaren Report was published in June a second dossier was sent to Papandrea with advice not to present it to the Board because it implicated some members in corrupt practices.

The McLaren team had not had enough time to investigate fully and deemed the material not sufficiently robust for publication.

Papandrea was under strong pressure to release the details to the Board but stood firm, abiding by McLaren’s instructions not to do so.

One version from one of her supporters was that Papandrea was chosen by the Board to "do the dirty work of removing Aján because they were too scared to try" - he resigned in April - and then blocked and belittled as she tried to carry out reforms.

The Board is now down to 17 members, seven of whom are from nations that are banned from Tokyo 2020 or can only send small teams because of multiple doping violations.

Mike Irani is the latest official to be named Interim President of the IWF ©BMI Healthcare
Mike Irani is the latest official to be named Interim President of the IWF ©BMI Healthcare

In her resignation letter to the Board, Papandrea said her complaints and observations included the following:

  • Ignoring direct warnings by the IOC.
  • Ignoring sound advice from the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations.
  • Thwarting my sincere efforts for comprehensive governance reform starting in June.
  • The pressure placed on the OIC [Oversight and Integrity Commission] to release the [McLaren] private report to all members of the Executive Board in direct contradiction of the investigator’s instructions.
  • Inconsistencies in application of the Constitution.
  • Resisting being led by true external independent experts and delaying the reform process by doing so.
  • Interfering in the work we asked the International Testing Agency to do [the ITA oversees the IWF’s anti-doping procedures].
  • Rejecting ITA’s Article 12 draft and insisting on rewriting it in a way that gave protections to countries with multiple doping positives.
  • Bringing influences on the board with strong and long ties to the Aján methods of board culture.
  • The unruly behaviour and disrespectful tones by which I was addressed regularly.
  • Mischaracterising your intent to change the Olympic qualification system, with changes that would clearly benefit the members of the Board’s federations and individual interests, not those of the athletes who had subjected themselves to the rules set forward in qualification.
  • A general disregard of how to use your position and wield it responsibly.
  • Blocking my request to remove sanctioned members from the Executive Board.
  • Not fully cooperating with the McLaren investigation as laid out in the Terms of Reference.
  • Other affronts to my own sense of right and wrong and what I saw as general ill-will and intentional mistreatment, with intent to be overly aggressive and bullying by a handful of members.
  • Attempting to push me into intervening in the ongoing Thai case (thus allowing the suspended nation to return to competition).
  • My belief that your interests are not reflective of all member federations or athletes, and exhibit more concern for nations with a gross number of positives rather than clean athletes.
  • Not using your collective decades [of experience in weightlifting] to engage in the type of reform that you are now claiming you care so much about.
  • Not acting to fill Athletes’ or Disciplinary Commissions prior to my prompting and the blocking my efforts to create an Integrity Commission.
  • Showing disdain about invitations to Athletes to attend meetings.
  • Not abiding by the Terms of Reference when removing me… for which I intend to take legal actions.
  • The absolute disregard for the IOC, thereby endangering the sport on the Olympic programme.
  • Failing to address red-flagged members when [they were] brought to attention by Auditors compliance.
  • Providing erroneous and misleading information about my activity as Interim President to the IOC with the explicit intent to mislead them.

She ended her resignation letter by stating: "I have witnessed irresponsible and chaotic behaviour which was used to retain a status quo that was not conducive to the long-term survival of the sport as an Olympic sport."