IWF presidential candidate vows to clean up sport and secure weightlifting’s place in future Olympic Games

The sport has been awash in scandal and doping for years. IOC President Thomas Bach has strongly hinted their spot in the Paris 2024 program is far from a sure thing.

Hampton Morris (USA) el pesista más destacado del Mundial sub 17 en Jeddah (IWF)
Hampton Morris (USA) el pesista más destacado del Mundial sub 17 en Jeddah (IWF)

With the upcoming International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) election in Tashkent, Uzbekistan next month, one of the leading candidates to be the next IWF president is busy making a final push to impress.

Ursula Papandrea was nominated by USA Weightlifting in November and served as acting and interim president of the IWF last year. She was forced out in October 2020 in a controversial move by the IWF Executive Board, a move that was publically criticized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The previous IWF president Tamás Aján of Hungary was forced to resign after 20 years in charge, after widespread corruption and doping in the sport was made public in a German TV documentary. Aján called the accusations “lies” before tendering his resignation.

IOC President Thomas Bach has not been impressed with the IWF’s actions of late, and has gone so far as to suggest the sport’s future in Paris 2024 and future Olympic Games is far from secure. Weightlifting was one of the original sports at the first modern Olympics in 1896. Since the 2016 Rio Games, the IOC has significantly reduced the number of weight divisions and weightlifters participating in the Olympics.

Firming up the IOC’s support and eliminating any doubt about the IWF’s capability to function in a proper manner is first on Papandrea’s to-do list, as she recently told during an interview with Around the Rings.

Sarah Robles lifting at Tokyo 2020 (USA Weightlifting)
Sarah Robles lifting at Tokyo 2020 (USA Weightlifting)

“Our goal at USA Weightlifting is to serve the athletes better and to preserve the sport as an Olympic sport,” Papandrea said. “If we can take that goal and transfer to the IWF and say we’re here to serve our athletes and members then we have a chance to create a great organization that operates under good governance and principles, not because the IOC tells us to, but because we know it’s best for the organization.”

“If we can do that, we will flourish and have the financial freedom to not be so dependent on the IOC. There is a lot we can do as an organization to help our athletes and members.”

Papandrea has the full backing of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and others.

Persistent doping has plagued many Olympic sports in the past, and weightlifting is certainly no stranger to scandal. In fact, weightlifting has recorded 110 doping violations at the Olympics which accounts for over 25% of the overall total across all sports.

Papandrea has worked tirelessly to clean up the sport and signed the first agreement between the IWF and the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s Anti-Doping Division. She has also worked with the International Testing Agency (ITA) and the IOC as well. She told Around the Rings punishing athletes who cheat is all well and good, but it’s got to go much deeper than that.

“We have been punishing just the athletes, but the support personnel and the people around them have been getting away with it. There is a toxic culture in corruption that must be rooted out at the grass roots level,” said Papandrea. “We need more testing, and the member federations need to buy into the idea to test on the ground, not just to weed out the dirty athletes but to create a fair playing field for their own athletes at the national level.”

IOC flag, IWF banner, flag of Japan and flag of Tokyo 2020 (Hironori Hashimoto)
IOC flag, IWF banner, flag of Japan and flag of Tokyo 2020 (Hironori Hashimoto)

“The IWF cannot have their hands in anything doping related except approving anti-doping measures that should be proposed by the ITA that we, at that point, rubber stamp.”

Papandrea is one of two women, along with Karolina Lundahl of Finland, running for the IWF presidency. In total there are 11 candidates running. The elections for IWF presidency, executive board and various other commissions will be held December 20-21 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.