(ATR) For 50 years Tamas Ajan used his jovial demeanor to rise to the top of the International Weightlifting Federation. But behind the happy talk, he reportedly engineered a corrupt, cash-driven system that allowed rampant doping and vote-buying to secure his power.
Ajan, 82, once was a constant presence on the hustings of the Olympic Movement. He was already well known as secretary general of the IWF in 1999 when he became president. Throughout it all, the stocky former weightlifter from Hungary projected an upbeat personality. He was named an IOC member in 2000 and served until 2009 when he was made an honorary member. In 2010, he was awarded the Olympic Order for his contributions to the Olympic Movement. He also served as a member of foundation board of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Ajan’s tenure at the IWF continued even after he left the IOC -- despite a constant stream of positive doping tests from the Olympics and world championships. Even as suspicions began to mount about the federation’s integrity, Ajan was repeatedly re-elected without opposition. We now know vote-buying and other subterfuge kept the incumbent in office.
An expose by German TV channel ARD in January 2020 lifted the lid on corrupt practices under Ajan’s leadership. A $1 million inquiry by Richard McLaren that followed validated and amplified those claims. Last week the International Testing Agency -- which now handles doping for the IWF -- delivered a 50-page report confirming Ajan’s complicity. The report saysAjan was instrumental in quashing 150 or so adverse doping violations from 2010 to 2019.
Ajan resigned from the IWF and relinquished his IOC status last year as allegations mounted; the possibility of criminal charges cloud his future. Clearly, the IWF faces major challenges to restore its reputation.
This week the IWF could take a giant step to show the IOC and the world’s weightlifting athletes that it is serious about the future of the sport.
In a virtual meeting set for June 30, IWF delegates are supposed to adopt a new constitution intended to mark a clean break from the Ajan regime. Crafted with the oversight of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations, the new document sets forth governance with accountability. It also includes rules for elections, a process which will get underway once the new constitution goes into effect.
Next comes the Tokyo Olympics, where 196 lifters will compete, down from around 275 in past Games. Those shrinking numbers reflect the IOC’s discomfort with chronic doping in that sport. Even one positive from weightlifting in Tokyo may be enough to crash IWF efforts to restore its reputation with the IOC.
Just as pivotal for the federation will be elections later this year for a new president and other officers. Incredibly, Ajan supporters still fill seats on the IWF board and could win re-election.
The IOC has made it clear that its patience with weightlifting is at an end.
Now the IWF has to make clear that its patience with those who would destroy the sport with corrupt behavior likewise is at an end.
Written by Ed Hula.