International weightlifting saga could worsen

The weightlifting and national sports association will get behind the country’s efforts to keep Samoa’s weightlifters in the game as the International Olympic Committee decides what to do with the international body’s shady record.

Samoa Association of Sports and National Olympic Committee (S.A.S.N.O.C.) Board member Nynette Sass said the organisation will stand behind the local federation as it works to keep Samoan weightlifters in the global game.

The I.O.C. is threatening to suspend the International Weightlifting Federation (I.W.F.) from the next Olympics in 2024 if it does not urgently fix its governance problems, including relaxing its anti-doping rules and not giving athletes a seat at the table.

Earlier this month the I.W.F. set dates for two important sessions: to hold its elections, and to amend its constitution to work in the I.O.C.s demands. But it wanted to hold its election first, something the I.O.C. won’t stand for.

In late February, I.O.C. President Thomas Bach gave a stark warning, saying weightlifting’s place in Paris is on the line if nothing changes. 

“If these concerns are not addressed in a satisfactory and timely way the IOC Executive Board will have to review the place of weightlifting on the Olympic Games programme for Paris 2024 and for future Olympic Games. 

“The Executive Board has expressed its extreme concern, particularly about the lack of significant changes with regard to the management and the culture within the I.W.F..

“We acknowledged that one change in the I.W.F. anti-doping rules has been reversed after the intervention of the Executive Board, but we had also to note that many other requested changes from the IOC, from the International Testing Agency (I.T.A.), and from external experts have been ignored by the IWF despite all the warnings we had issued.”

Samoa Weightlifting Federation President, Tuaopepe Jerry Wallwork, said the future of all weightlifting athletes and the sport itself is at stake. 

“Drastic changes have to be made within the next few months or I am afraid we might get suspended or kicked out of the Olympics altogether,” he told the Samoa Observer on Tuesday.

“To us, not enough has been done by the I.W.F. and we are still pushing as we speak, we are working behind the scenes with other countries around the world to try and make these changes.

“These changes are for the better – for good governance, for transparency, for stopping the drugs in the sport – it’s good for the sport and it’s good for us in our part of the region.”

Among the issues I.W.F. is battling is how to hold its upcoming elections which are supposed to help turn over a new leaf from the current leadership accused of corrupt practices. 

Samoa and Fiji’s weightlifting federations wrote a five page submission to I.W.F. saying it would be unfair to hold a partially virtual election and demanded it be entirely online to even the playing field for members unable to travel. 

Tuaopepe is standing to run for the Executive Board. 

“How will I.W.F. ensure that all delegates and candidates attending in person have zero ability to campaign and/or influence any delegate/candidate while in Istanbul, as this will not be afforded those attending virtually?,” their letter said.

The letter was endorsed by weightlifting leaders from the United States, China and Greece, who have people standing for the Presidency. 

He said Samoa is working with a network of countries to campaign on the potential suspension, and said he hopes the I.W.F. will hear their voices and do what is needed to avoid the heavy consequences. 

“We have taken it as far as we can take, but we are not stopping, we are still pushing. Let’s hope changes will be made in the next few months.

“Elections must be held in a transparent way and there needs to be a complete overhaul of the system in I.W.F..” 

Many international federations have joined the I.O.C. in calling for change. 

Olympic gold medallist and candidate for the I.W.F. Presidency Pyrros Dimas said change is essential.

“A change of leadership and culture is essential and we must reset the Federation with better values, improved governance and real integrity.”

Tuaopepe said S.W.F. and S.A.S.N.O.C. are meeting next week to talk. In the meantime, he said he has tried to protect the weightlifting team from the issues and wants to let them focus on training and preparing for the Olympics, where he believes they have a very real chance of medalling. 

So far two weightlifters have qualified for Tokyo: Vaipava Nevo Ioane and Don Opelego. Three others are still waiting to learn if they have qualified and should learn by mid-April.

Ms. Sass said whatever the federation wants, S.A.S.N.O.C. should be able to support.

“With this particular issue we would absolutely support our federation and it’s just a matter of hearing from [Tuaopepe] what he wants from us, whether that’s an official position or something like that. 

“We know weightlifting is one of the best performing sports in Samoa. We need to be there and I really don’t see issues with us standing behind Samoa weightlifting.” 

She said another avenue would be for S.A.S.N.O.C. to approach the Oceania National Olympic Committee (O.N.O.C.) directly, which would have a louder voice at the I.O.C. table. 

“We need to work collectively, not just here at S.A.S.N.O.C. but in the region with Oceania to work together and make a strong case on behalf of our federations. 

“Somebody is going to have to sit up and listen,” she said.

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