On Sunday, August 8, 2021, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board approved an alteration to the Olympic Charter that permits them to remove a sport’s International Federation from Games eligibility without requiring approval from an official IOC Session.
According to reporting by Inside the Games, John Coates, the Vice President of the IOC, admitted during a press event in Tokyo that the change was motivated by “specific recommendations that have not been followed,” on the part of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) in recent years. “The Executive Board made those directions … to ensure the reputation of the Olympic Movement, our reputation, was not tarnished.” Coates continued.
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Prior to this change, a sport’s suspension or dismissal from the Olympic Games required ratification by an IOC Session, a yearly body meeting of over 100 member countries of the IOC. Weightlifting could now face the prospect of a suspension from Paris 2024 with a possible admittance back four years later at the Los Angeles event.
From Rio to Tokyo
The actions taken by the IOC Executive Board are the latest in a string of developments that threaten the integrity of weightlifting both as an Olympic event and the reputation of the IWF as a whole. In the five years since the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, weightlifting has been beset by political controversy and bureaucratic upheavals due to its ongoing issues with performance-enhancing drug abuse.
The publication of a scathing report in 2020 detailing instances of bribery, corruption, and cover-ups by ranking members of the IWF — including former present Tamas Ajan, who resigned in 2020 — rocked the sport in the second half of the Tokyo qualification cycle, prompting a higher level of scrutiny by the IOC.
While the IWF has taken steps to curb doping problems in the sport, including adjustments to its qualification period, and the creation of new independent committees, drug use seems to persist at an alarming level. The months leading up to the competition in Tokyo saw new suspensions of both member federations and individual athletes alike, as well as an outright failure of the IWF to adhere to IOC guidance regarding the ratification of a new constitution this summer.
While IWF records currently list only two finalized sanctions to individual lifters in 2021, 2020 alone saw 36 high-level athletes actioned for drug-related violations, including 13 from the Russian Federation, whose lack of drug control enforcement resulted in their athletes missing out on the Games in Rio and Tokyo.
Consequences in Paris
Coates would go on to capstone the displeasure of the IOC by saying, “… if Federations are going to continue to disregard directions, then there should be this power in there,” referring to the updated Board powers to suspend International Federations from play at the Olympics.
The new IOC legislature casts a shadow over the conclusion of the weightlifting event in Tokyo 2020, which saw history made in multiple weight categories and many new world records established and broken. Despite a series of stringent cuts to athlete quota, weightlifting is, as of now, on the docket for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
In the face of a rapidly evolving political landscape that could result in weightlifting losing its viability as an Olympic event, Paris hopefuls begin their preparations and training, but perhaps with caution in mind.
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