Phil Andrews: International Weightlifting and the McLaren Report (Podcast)

On June 4th, Professor Richard McLaren released his team’s report investigating allegations of financial corruption, election fraud, and doping cover ups at the International Weightlifting Federation’s (IWF) highest levels. According to McLaren’s report, former IWF President Dr. Tamas Aján was involved in deep financial corruption (with over $10 million unaccounted for) as well as coordinated election fraud. However, allegations made against the Hungarian National Anti-Doping Agency (HUNADO) regarding false drug testing did NOT prove to be accurate.

(Read BarBend’s summary of McLaren’s report as well as the original text of his team’s report.)

In this episode, USA Weightlifting CEO Phil Andrews — who began serving in a temporary transition role with the IWF after McLaren’s investigation was underway — joins us to talk about McLaren’s findings and potential impact of the report. It’s worth clarifying two things: Though he’s acting in a temporary position with the IWF, Phil was not directly involved in the investigation and only had access to the report at the same time as media and the public. In this recording, Phil also requested we clarify he is speaking here as the CEO of USA Weightlifting, and his words don’t necessarily represent positions held by the IWF.

Note: BarBend is the Official Media Partner of USA Weightlifting. Unless otherwise specified on certain content, the two organizations maintain editorial independence.

In this episode of the BarBend Podcast, David Thomas Tao talks to Phil Andrews about:

  • Phil’s current dual role with both USA Weightlifting and the IWF (3:20)
  • “Secret Doping: The Lord of the Lifters” (5:33)
  • Who is Richard McLaren? (7:45)
  • The size and scope of McLaren’s investigation (12:16)
  • Where McLaren’s investigation and “The Lord of the Lifters” disagreed (16:30)
  • The allegation that the McLaren Report found to NOT be true (17:17)
  • Untangling the IWF’s complex finances and allegations of financial corruption (18:00)
  • What are some near-term steps and followups from the investigation? (26:00)
  • Allegations of election fraud at the IWF (27:20)
  • Will a new Executive Board be elected? (30:48)
  • Rebuilding trust among member federations (34:00)
  • The future of doping testing and doping control in weightlifting (37:00)
  • New Olympic qualifying procedures for weightlifting and the Tokyo Olympics (44:50)

Relevant links and further reading:

Transcription

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the “BarBend Podcast”, where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches, and minds from around the world of strength. I’m your host, David Thomas Tao, and this podcast is presented by barbend.com.

 

Today’s episode is a bit different than most we’ve done, and we’re focusing specifically on news that has rocked the world of international weightlifting. My guest today is Phil Andrews, CEO of USA Weightlifting, who is also acting in a temporary role with the International Weightlifting Federation. We’ll get to that in a second.

 

In early 2020, a German documentary titled “Secret Doping: The Lord of the Lifters” premiered, which made some explosive allegations regarding the International Weightlifting Federation’s governance under Dr. Tamás Aján of Hungary.

 

Aján served as secretary general of the IWF from 1975 to 2000, and as president of the IWF from 2000 to 2020. The documentary alleged systematic financial, election, and doping fraud perpetrated by Aján and his co-conspirators.

 

As a result of the documentary, he stepped down as president and Professor Richard McLaren was tasked with investigating the allegations. You may recognize his name from previous doping investigations at the international level. This is roughly the time that Phil Andrews was approached to take a temporary role in the governance of the IWF.

 

On June 4th, McLaren’s findings were published and the investigation concluded that over $10 million was unaccounted for with no paper trail to determine where money that was withdrawn by Aján was spent, or if it was used for legitimate purposes. The report also concluded that Aján interfered with IWF board elections via bribery.

 

The report did however effectively cleared HUNADO, the Hungarian Anti-Doping group, of wrongdoing that was originally alleged in the German documentary. That’s worth stating here. In today’s episode, recorded just a day after McLaren’s Report was published, Phil Andrews gives his thoughts on the initial impact on the sport of weightlifting at the highest levels.

 

We also discussed changes in Olympic qualifying procedures for the Tokyo Olympics. Now let’s get to it. Phil Andrews, thank you for joining me today. This is actually the third time you’ve been on The BarBend Podcast which is a new BarBend Podcast record.

Phil AndrewsPhil Andrews

 

Wow.

David TaoDavid Tao

It’s like Tom Hanks hosting “Saturday Night Live” in many ways.

Phil AndrewsPhil Andrews

 I’ll take that comparison.

David TaoDavid Tao

 I think anyone would, but the circumstances that we’re chatting under today are a little different than normal. This isn’t a check in on the state of affairs of USA Weightlifting. This is actually very much a check in on the state of affairs on some very recent news. In one of your several roles now, you’re serving as a double role.

 

We’re going to be talking about the McLaren Report, which came out recently and uncovered or confirmed some widespread corruption in the International Weightlifting Federation.

 

For context and before we dive into that, give people a little insight into what exactly you’re doing with the International Weightlifting Federation right now and the timeline there, because that’s pretty important to realize that you’re not just the CEO of USA Weightlifting now. You’re actually acting on an organizational role at the International Weightlifting Federation.

Phil AndrewsPhil Andrews

 I’m currently an interim staff [inaudible 3:32] role with the IWF, which is a stunt dummy. I’m in the last couple of weeks. The primary role is to oversee a transition to have the operation based out of Switzerland and to find a new permanent chief executive officer of my direct general, CEO of the IWF. I will not be standing for that role.

 

That was my choice and part of my agreement with the IWF. I do want to be part of team USA at the 2021 Olympic Games. To be honest, I don’t think I’m the right person for that role right now. I’ll be helping them identify who that person might be.

 

There’s a search committee made up of executive board members of a adjoined supporting, assisting, advising in that search to find someone permanently to lead the IWF staff based out of Lausanne, Switzerland which, for those who don’t know, is the Colorado Springs of the worldwide. Then big movement.

 

It’s where the IOC is based. It’s where the International University Sports Association is based, etc. We plan along with that.

 

Obviously, that role may chop and change a little bit as we go along here. We expect that to last about three months, but it could be a little bit longer based upon how long it takes us to obviously react. Yes, there’s news, but also to identify the right employees to assist us.

David TaoDavid Tao

First, some additional context here. It seems that two members of the governance of USA Weightlifting are now leading the IWF, yourself and Ursula, who is heading up everything right now in her role. The interesting thing about that is it looks very different than at the beginning of this year.

 

There was a pretty groundbreaking explosive. Some people have called it German documentary, “Lord of the Lifters” that alleged widespread and systematic corruption in the International Weightlifting Federation, from the person and team who had been leading that organization for nearly 40 years.

 

Give us a timeline as to when exactly you were approached about taking a leadership role in the IWF as Dr. Aján was basically phased out.

Phil AndrewsPhil Andrews

In terms of the staff role, I believe it was around April. It is around winter, Dr. Aján resigned his presidency. I was appointed around that same time, and I apologize that I don’t have an exact date for you, David.

 

A discussion has happened for a while now, and came to fruition since. Before that, I was acting as secretary to the IWF’s oversight integrity commission, which was set up in January, on a voluntary basis to support their work in identifying a investigatory team to look into those allegations you mentioned.

 

Of course, Richard McLaren was the individual that we appointed to lead that [inaudible 6:49] executive board advised by the OIC, appointed to take care of that investigation. I was acting as the, if you like, support to that group throughout that process.

 

I’ve been a little bit involved in this whole thing since January. Although the official role of the IWF has only recently started in May.

David TaoDavid Tao

We’re going to talk about the McLaren report which came out on June 4th, so a few days before this podcast is airing. We here look, McLaren report, it seems like every time there’s an Olympic sport scandal, in broad proportion, or in a broad sense, we hear the word, McLaren.

 

Who is Professor McLaren? Why was he put or asked to be placed in this role as the investigator of these allegations specifically?

Phil AndrewsPhil Andrews

Richard McLaren is best known for his work with WADA. He was the person who led the primary two reports into the instances under appeal, I should say, alleged issues with RUSADA, the Russian Anti-Doping Agency.

 

That’s why the McLaren Report or that sort of phrase seems very familiar to everybody. Previous to that, Richard has been involved for a long time in sports corruption, in anti-doping or rather doping investigations and perhaps most notably as heading the, for many years — I think he’s now heading it again — the basketball integrity unit worldwide for FIBA, which is the IWF of basketball.

 

He’s got a long history of that sort of practice in Canada. He is probably the best known worldwide. I think what stands him apart, he is really nobody’s friend. He’s not going to write anything that he doesn’t believe in, and he’s not going to write anything that you want him to. Even with WADA, there was items where he disagreed with WADA.

 

Despite publicly perhaps, there might be a perception that he is WADA’s guy because he did those reports. That’s true. He did those reports, but there was the items where he disagreed with WADA. I completely disagree with the IOC. I think what stood him apart is his reputation.

 

Yes, but that reputation is built on…His report from Richard McLaren will be respected by people like, the IOC, the ITA, WADA and I think, majority of readers, but not necessarily friendly to those organizations. I think that’s critical to be respected, but not a friend.

 

I think that’s why Richard…He wasn’t the only person that was looked at. There’s others who have conducted investigations, ethics, or compliance investigations into these sorts of international federations, and perhaps most notably recently the International Biathlon Union.

 

There was a little taken, I think, four different groups in the end that could do the work, and Richard was selected by a majority vote of the executive board, and the anonymous vote of the Oversight and Integrity Commission.

David TaoDavid Tao

How long did Richard McLaren’s report take to compile? How long did his investigation take in the context of the look into the allegations against the IWF governance?

Phil AndrewsPhil Andrews

The virtual 90-day period and that was due to…I think it was April 22nd. That got extended through to June 4th, and that was due to the coronavirus, which did significantly hamper the ability for the investigatory team to get things like in-person testimony, etc. That was the time denoted by the executive board in January.

 

That is for an investigation of this size and scope, that is a pretty quick timeline.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

It seems aggressive for this level of detail.

Phil AndrewsPhil Andrews

Yeah. McLaren one in the WADA cases was also roughly the same, but there was a McLaren two in the WADA cases, which is genuinely viewed as the better known report than what he’d report into the Russian doping scandal. The 90 days for this level of inquiry, or the scope of inquiry, is reasonably quick.

 

An additional time would’ve helped out some, but the coronavirus probably balances that out. If not, perhaps a negative.

David TaoDavid Tao

We’ll dive into only in the show notes and the YouTube description for the corresponding video for this interview and the article you write around it. We’ll include a direct link to McLaren’s full report, which has a fairly succinct — and I say succinct in the context of a very long document with a lot of research behind it.

 

A fairly succinct executive summary that readers can look into, and if they want to go into more detail, there’s a detailed table of contents and you can really dive into it. It’s more than a light afternoon read, let’s put it that way. We’re going to include that in the show notes and description for people to reference, specifically.

 

How large — something that doesn’t jump off the page — was McLaren’s investigative team? Do you have a sense of how many people they sought testimony from?

Phil AndrewsPhil Andrews

I don’t know the exact amount of people they sought testimony from. I know, this was mentioned in the report, there was some disappointment on their part in the relative lack of people who came forward. They do mention anonymous witnesses by a number.

 

I believe that number is randomly drawn rather than chronological, so just because you key witness 904, doesn’t mean it was 904 witnesses…

David TaoDavid Tao

 

That was something that took me a second to wrap my head around when reading, yeah.

Phil AndrewsPhil Andrews

Richard’s team was primarily made up of three lead individuals. Steven Berryman, who is best known for his investigation to FIFA’s finances, who’s an American, former IRS agent. German named Martin Dubbey out of Burton, who is the lead investigator. He used to be the head of the Serious Organized Crime unit for Great Britain. Then Richard himself.

 

Below that, there was assistant investigators, for example. You have forensic accounting individuals, forensic IT individuals, and assistant investigators to Martin, Richard and Steven. Primarily Martin who were involved in acquiring that evidence now and analyzing that evidence.

David TaoDavid Tao

You’re in an interesting position, because you are very much dealing with the impact of this report, as someone who is wearing a lot of hats in the weightlifting community both domestically United States and abroad. There’s a lot of fallout from this that you will have to sort through, representing two different but interconnected organizations.

 

Something worth noting is during the investigative period, and while this report is being compiled, you did not have access. You were not looking over anyone’s shoulder. It’s important to note that you found out about this and read the ultimate report at the same time everyone else did.

 

There was a media call where the report was effectively released, we can nickel and dime the exact minutes of that, but you’re finding out about this real-time along with everyone else. To confirm, that’s correct?

Phil AndrewsPhil Andrews

Yeah, we were due to get the report. “We” meaning the IWF Executive Board, the IWF Oversight and Integrity Commission, myself as their secretary, and secretariat, which is the IWF staff, was supposed to receive the report around 7:45 AM Mountain Time, which is about 15 minutes ahead of the media press conference.

 

Richard, he actually did come in about two minutes after 8:00 AM. Two minutes after the due start of the press conference, Richard starting speaking, we received the PDF. I think that was the exact same time as the media.

 

We’re listening, I have…Me, personally, I’m obviously not in the same building as anybody else right now. I’m reading through this at the same time Richard is speaking through his remarks and notes, and of course some of that’s relevant because you want to hear his opinion and his remarks as well as read the document.

 

I didn’t have a chance to read the full document word-for-word, until yesterday afternoon. After both that press conference, and the press conference that was held by Ursula Papandrea on behalf of the Oversight and Integrity Commission about two hours later. I skimmed Reddit. I read the executive summary that you mentioned.

 

I didn’t have a chance to sit down and read it until the afternoon. I say yesterday, this is being recorded on June 5th, yesterday was June 4th when the report was published.

David TaoDavid Tao

The report was looking into…It’s difficult to actually sum it up in a few sentences. A broad spectrum let’s call it of corruption allegations, including significant financial corruption, election fraud in the context of IWF elections, and also doping fraud and mishandling of doping.

 

One thing that is worth noting, you talk about McLaren not necessarily being anyone’s friend. Things were not confirmed across the board. Let’s put it that way. All the allegations made in the Lord of the Lifters documentary, many of them were supported by the McLaren team’s ultimate findings.

 

Some actually weren’t. It was not across the board like, “Hey, everything that was alleged did occur,” however, we should start right at the top. Widespread financial corruption and election fraud perpetrated at the highest levels of the International Weightlifting Federation.

 

Walk us through, in your perspective, what this report actually found and confirmed on those two ends.

Phil AndrewsPhil Andrews

Yeah, I think you’re correct. We should open with one allegation the McLaren Report categorically found that was not accurate, which was HUNADO. The allegation was HUNADO, the Hungarian National Anti-Doping Agency, had colluded or cooperated in some way with Dr. Tamas Aján and the IWF to manipulate doping samples.

 

Professor McLaren and his team found that not the accurate, and they were acting within the WADA code. It’s really important where there’s a allegation that’s disproven, that we emphasize that. That’s one thing.

 

The report obviously goes into significant detail and finds about $10 million roughly missing from IWF moneys. It is not clear how much of that is in direct cash fraud, and how much of that is in extremely poor accounting. Those are both mentioned.

 

We’ve already in the IWF’s operation, changed the way that we look after our bank accounts. They’re all bank accounts that were uncovered. I mentioned the report. Those are now being accounted for and when necessary, are the signatories changed or being closed?

 

We’ve appointed a company out of Switzerland. The autograph operations has to assist us with, essentially getting all our house in order when it comes to accounting, and getting all books into the place where they need to be as an operational business, quite frankly.

 

Obviously, whilst we must maintain a bank account in Hungary for now, whilst we still have staff there. Then eventually those accounts will transfer into Switzerland, where the address, registered CTS and it’s own humble day.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Even after the report, it’s still unclear exactly how much money was funneled away from the IWF to the personal benefit of Dr. Aján and any potential collaborators he had. Is there any chance that the IWF gets a portion of that money back?

Phil AndrewsPhil Andrews

That’s a difficult question to answer, David, right now. It depends on what happens next. Is there any proceedings in Hungary or in Switzerland against Dr. Aján, or any other individual with respect to the financial fraud? That will be a decision for law enforcement in those countries.

 

Is it possible that Dr. Aján may say, “Yes, now I’ve been…Now the report said this, I will come forward?” A reporting inside the game yesterday suggests that’s not going to be the case.

 

I honestly don’t have a good answer for that. I wish I could say, yes, and here’s how we can recover 1, 2, 3, 4, 10 million, whatever it is, but there’s a reality to that. It depends on what the legal process that Aján may or may not face from this day forward might look like. I think that’s primarily going to come down to the legal structures in Switzerland and Hungary.

David TaoDavid Tao

I think something that’s worth getting a little bit of a handle on for folks who might not be intimately familiar with it…First off, how exactly does the IWF make money and where does that money go? A lot of those questions, no one besides Aján seemed to have the answer to as far as where that money goes for a number of decades.

 

I think this report uncovering a very tangled web of finances, some intentionally fraudulent, some maybe not intentionally fraudulent, just sloppy bookkeeping. Still a lot to be worked out. For context for folks who might not be familiar, how does the IWF make money?

Phil AndrewsPhil Andrews

About 53 percent of IWF funds come from the International Olympic Committee. That’s moneys that are received from the IOC, primarily for TV rights to the Olympic Games, but also from top sponsorship, which is people like Visa or Toyota, etc.

 

That money feeds down into the International Federations and National Olympic Committees, in the case of the International Federations, according to a tiered system. The IWF receive a significant amount of money, and that’s why the revenue of the IWF is significantly higher in an Olympic year than it is the other three.

 

The other income looks primarily like rights fees for hosting world championships, media from those world championships’ sponsors from those world championships. There’s also small items like membership fees from the worldwide federations, smaller items like referee cards, which as $200 per card.

 

You have to think about in the US, we have…I think it’s about 80 roughly now, either of category ones and twos, so by the time that all adds up, that’s another healthy income stream. Indeed, the biggest single revenue driver for the IWF is, of course, the Olympic Games. Of course, that’s been a challenge this year because we expected an Olympic Games.

 

Therefore, payments to be received around about now, but also later in the year from the Olympic Games, they’ll be received next year. The IWF does have a good reserve, which is good news. It can survive off of that reserve and has not had to take additional funding from the IOC in order to survive, which some other sports have had to ask for that advance.

 

That money should be received next year with no problems. Therefore, whilst those additional practices are put in place, and they have to be, they’re already being worked on. In terms of getting the books up to date, in terms of getting the books in shape from here on forth.

 

That money hitting next year may, in a way, be a good thing because hopefully we’ve got the books and the accounts into a working order by that point.

David TaoDavid Tao

Dr. Aján was leading the IWF for around 40 years. Actually, I think it might have been a tick over 40 years. It was a long period of governance, and the corruption and allegations that were looked into from the McLaren Report are relatively recent. Let’s put it that way in the context of Dr. Aján’s governance.

 

Is there evidence that suggests that Dr. Aján had been using IWF accounts as call it a personal piggy bank for decades before the allegations outlined in the report?

 

Phil AndrewsPhil Andrews

I think it’s difficult to say there’s evidence to support that, David. You can see what the report says. You can certainly make up your own assumptions or mind of what may or may not have happened before that.

 

Specifically, due to time primarily, and due to records not being available necessarily for the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and perhaps even the ’00s, the McLaren Report really looked at ’09 to ’19, that period of time.

 

Is there a chance that similar allegations or similar issues may have been brought up if the report looked at 1970-question mark when Dr. Aján was first elected to the Executive Board, and subsequently as the General Secretary, and then president in 2000? Yes.

 

I think that’s certainly something that you could read the report and perhaps bring your own conclusion on, “Well, if it was the case in 2009 to ’19 based on what I’m reading, is there a strong chance it might’ve been before that?” You can draw your own conclusion.

David TaoDavid Tao

[laughs] Certainly. I’m not trying to entrap you to say anything specific on that that you might not know. We talk about in the WADA case there was a McLaren Report one, and then there was a McLaren Report two, McLaren Report part two being the one that is much more widely known, and came to be known as the McLaren Report.

 

In the context of Professor McLaren’s work with the IWF, is there going to be a follow-up, or is this report — the one that came out June 4th — the end of his engagement with the IWF looking into these specific allegations?

Phil AndrewsPhil Andrews

Potentially so. I don’t necessarily know that it will be McLaren that will be engaged to do that because now we’ve got allegations that have some evidence being presented.

 

Therefore, it’s up to the IWF Executive Board, who are still the governing group, or the Congress, which does stand above the Executive Board, to decide what the next steps are. Those steps will be critical in rebuilding our sport and the reputation of our sport going forward, and what those investigation or disciplinary or reform steps look like.

 

McLaren certainly made some recommendations, some of which required further investigation, and some of which simply require implementation, some of which require a little bit of both. I think that’s a place to start. Richard, having investigated these matters for several months, has said, “Well, having looked at this pretty strongly, this is what I think.”

 

I think that provides a guide for the IWF EB. With some allegations made against Executive Board members, it certainly seems like appropriate action might look like some further independent involvement. That will be a matter for the Executive Board itself to look at.

David TaoDavid Tao

Let’s shift a little bit and focus on some of the other allegations that the McLaren Report did confirm. Those were in relation to election fraud at the IWF level.

 

This is something where it’s especially touchy subject because on the financial corruption, the report basically said, “Look, things were so complex, and so hidden and tiered, that Dr. Aján was really the only one…” He set it up such that he was the only one who knew what was going on with the true finances of the IWF. It’s something we’re still uncovering.

 

Election fraud, in this instance, takes a significant number and investment by co-conspirators. Let’s talk a little bit about that. Which election fraud allegations were confirmed by McLaren’s Report, and what are next steps, as you know right now by the IWF in relation to those.

Phil AndrewsPhil Andrews

Let’s do the next steps first here, bearing in mind whether the next day, we don’t know that yet. That will be up to the EB, and somewhat the Oversight Integrity Commission to look at what those might look like, or just might take time.

 

Those steps probably do look like some independence of those from the Executive Board in terms of those discussions, or investigations. That is up to them to decide. Not for me to decide or even for us. They’re on their own to decide.

 

In terms of the vote-buying allegations, it’s alleged in the report that in both 2013 in Moscow and 2017 in Bangkok, as well as potentially in some Continental Federation Elections, there has been a vote-buying or vote fraud.

 

That it takes a couple of different forms in the report that the primary allegation that those votes were incentivized, or bought with cash between $5,000 and $30,000 per person.

 

There isn’t too many names in the report. Only one or an Executive Board member, I believe, is named in the report aside from Aján, which it would be clear that that person should not participate in discussions around what the next steps are on this particular subject. That’s in the report. It’s Major General Intarat, Yodbangtoe of Thailand.

 

What is alleged is that members of two federations, in particular the Asian and African Federations, and Oceania in 2013 were potentially involved in some scheme to arrange their votes to reelect Tamas Aján.

David TaoDavid Tao

It’s a complex situation because the IWF’s governance that’s now dealing with the fallout of this is what’s potentially some of these individuals involved in these election frauds.

 

You mentioned one name that was named specifically in the report, but it seems like it’s a little bit of a game of clue right now, in that, we assume that there are more individuals involved. We assume some of them may still be involved in IWF governance, the Executive Board level, but we’re not sure who.

 

Is it even possible for the Executive Board or the IWF to be washed clean, and reelected from scratch? Is that something that’s at all in the books, or a possibility?

Phil AndrewsPhil Andrews

I’m not sure. Again, this is for the IWF and its Executive Board to decide. I’m doing this podcast as me because they’re not speaking here on behalf of the IWF.

 

It’s up to them to decide what that looks like, and how that goes forward should elections occur earlier rather than later, as a result of the allegations to try and restore trust. If so, what are those elections look like? What does a potential investigation into the matters look like?

 

I’m sorry not to give you a straight answer. I desperately want to because I’d like that answer myself, but it’s simply the case that the Executive Board itself will decide those. Of course, there are likely to be people on the Executive Board who did not engage in that.

 

Even the report essentially says that there are some who had full knowledge of a scheme and some who didn’t. As a result, those who didn’t may feel that they may wish to stand again, or even some of those who did, may [laughs] wish to stand again too, but that’s a different issue.

 

It is up to the EB now to decide how to go forward, and how to resolve those claims, how to investigate those claims. Clearly, that there is calls for them to do so, but what that looks like, comes down to their decision.

David TaoDavid Tao

Among national federations and national governing bodies in the sport of weightlifting…Again, you can’t speak for everyone. I certainly understand that. You are the CEO of USA Weightlifting, but you can’t speak for every other head of every other national governing body.

 

Generally, do you think this has ruined the credibility of the IWF Executive Board, particularly the voting fraud allegations from the perspective of some national governing bodies?

Phil AndrewsPhil Andrews

Potentially so. There has been statements made by New Zealand, Great Britain, and the United States, USA Weightlifting that I’ve seen and I’m sure all those have also commented. Germany may have done.

 

Of course, one of the issues is a lack of information for the Executive Board, but also a lack of oversight from the Executive Board comes out in the report.

 

That’s where I read Great Britain’s statement moments before this call, and that seemed to be where they were directing their issue, if you like, about the current state of affairs was the lack of oversight of Dr. Tamas Aján and the EB, lack of oversight of the IWF as a whole wouldn’t, and there’s two sides to that.

 

As the report comes out, there’s no dry-arms inability, or lack of desire to give the Executive Board the information they need. Also, on the other hand, the Executive Board needs to have that oversight. The Executive Board has to be trusted by those member federations to give the oversight to the organization.

 

It’s the same as in the US, our board is trusted to give oversight to me and to our staff. That has to be resolved. It’s clear that there is lack of trust right now between the whole International Weightlifting communities. I think that’s fair.

 

Trust has to be rebuilt, and that’s going to take more than just one thing. I don’t think it’s necessarily going to take a wipe in the Executive Board, but it is going to take government’s reform. As in, some people might return from the same Executive Board, some people might not in an election.

 

That’s one issue that has to be addressed before any election can take place is, how are we going to make sure that the governance of the federation at its core is there?

 

That governance allows fair elections, allows the right people to be elected, to be supported by those member federations into those roles, and subsequently allows the Executive Board the right powers to oversee the president, general secretary, the CEO of the organization, and subsequently staff.

 

“How do we modernize the sport to be the sport appropriate to manage these all now?” That’s the real question rather than specifically, “Do we want the Executive Board,” or “How are members of the federations reacting?”

 

There’s a degree of shock this morning. We’re one day out, as I mentioned from getting the report. There’s a degree of “What do we do now? What’s the reaction?” Many of the questions you’ve asked, David, is along those lines.

 

I think a lack of trust, generally amongst the IWF, is probably the current state of play. That is the core issue that we need to address, and that’s primarily addressed in good governance.

David TaoDavid Tao

I want to shift focus a little bit to talk about doping in weightlifting. Now it’s worth noting that the executive summary of McLaren’s Report said a few interesting things. It did reference that Dr. Aján, and I quote, “Impermissibly interfered with the IWF Anti-Doping Commission.” It referred to his behavior as meddling.

 

However, it did effectively clear HUNADO, the Hungarian Anti-Doping Organization, of any wrongdoing, as we referenced earlier in the call. This is actually what stuck out to me most of this section of the executive summary of the report.

 

McLaren’s team found that the real problem is the “culture of doping that exists in the sport.” I’m quoting that verbatim. Obviously weightlifting has had a number of issues regarding doping. Findings, retests from the Beijing and London Olympic games made international headlines.

 

What steps are being taken right now and what steps do you think additionally need to be taken at the international level regarding doping testing and doping control in the sport of weightlifting?

Phil AndrewsPhil Andrews

 I think what’s interesting is this is probably an area which has been addressed relatively well since 2017. I’m not saying there isn’t more work to do. There absolutely is. I’m a big proponent of that. What more can we do? How else can we attack this problem?

 

In 2017, we were threatened with elimination from the Olympic games because of our widespread doping problem. What happened was, and you have to give credit where credit is due, Dr. Tamas Aján appointed what became the Clean Sport Commission headed by Richard Young. Richard Young was the co-author of the WADA code.

 

Much like Richard McLaren, part of that agreement was the report of the Clean Sport Commission, was free from interference and literally, you can’t even change the letter head. It’s got to be on white paper that Richard provided.

 

That provides a number of recommendations. Perhaps most relevant of which was the outsourcing of the outdoor competition and in-competition testing arrangements to the International Testing Agency, which is actually set up by the IOC, and thereby a gentleman named Benjamin Cohen, who was previously with WADA.

 

That has occurred and was completed in 2019, the full handover, so they look after results management. Some of the issues that were talked about are about potential manipulation of results management.

 

I can’t say impossible. Of course, there may be issues at the ITA. That could be true of any organization. I’m not alleging anything about the ITA, but I will say much less likely because now there is yet another association and an independent one involved in that process.

 

They also look after the selection of the outdoor competition testing, and the selection of in-competition testing, and the appointment of those known-as.

 

What happens is testing order is given by the Results Authority or Testing Authority, which is now the ITA on behalf of the IWF to a testing agency, which might be USODA, HUNADO, it might be UKAD, or whomever, and they go and test that individual.

 

It doesn’t need to be the country necessarily where they’re testing because the order comes from the ITA, but that’s the WADA, ITA, USODA, UKAD, etc. and how that works. That’s a critical step that gives a lot more trust to the process for everybody.

 

The IWF recently outsourced, appointing all of the panels, the Anti-Doping Commission of the IWF, as well as the Independent Member Federations Sanctioning Panel, which perhaps most famously has dealt with the Thailand case and the Egypt case in recent years. All of those appointments will now be made by the ITA, not by the IWF.

 

All of that builds trust, builds independence into the anti-doping system. One thing that the IWF has worked on recently is making sure that the ITA is educated on weightlifting because they look after, much like you saw what it does, a lot of different Olympic sports.

 

The downside of that is theoretically why the International Federation is good at looking after or was appropriate to look after its own Doping Control Program is because they know the sport. They know why a weightlifter might dope. They know when a weightlifter might dope, and they understand those risks.

 

One of the things that the ITA does need support and education on, especially as their first three, four, or five years is exactly that. How does a weightlifter effectively engage in doping? When does a weightlifter engage in doping? In which countries? And why?

 

What’s the incentive behind that doping? That they may engage in and therefore use the pool of money that we have out there for testing, which is a very significant portion of the IWF budget to test effectively. They’re also in charge of education and they’ve done a pretty good job of that during coronavirus.

 

It’s a tough time to talk about doping control because doping control is slowed around the world due to coronavirus and that has, not just for weightlifting with every school, but testing. [inaudible 41:32] backwards, education is still there.

 

A lot of people aren’t training so that lessens the risk a little bit, but it’s clear that the ITA together with other IWF partners around the world, must aggressively test and aggressively get back into the swing of a doping control after we’ve completed. As soon as it’s relatively possible to leave the house and go and test those people I think is reasonable.

 

A lot of that’s being dealt with, but at the same time, that is not an area the IWF can say, “Look, we solved that problem. We’ve got other allegations coming up that we need to solve.” Yes, that’s true, but actually doping is still our biggest core issue that we need to look at in our sport. That’s the one that I think, from what I understand, athletes most care about.

 

Is when I stepped onto the field of play, when I step onto the platform, do I have a fair shot against him or her that I’m competing against? I think that’s where I hear from athletes, certainly American athletes. Is where they care about the most. I think that’s not just true of Americans. That’s true worldwide.

 

One of the other things, culturally, that Rich mentioned, that I think is worth talking about is, as you see less countries engaging in that, there’ll be less of a sense of, “Well, we have to do it because they’re doing it.” That is an issue right now. That’s in many research studies, not just in weightlifting, but in other sports.

 

That’s been shown to be a clear motivator for doping is, “Well, if I don’t, the other six or seven guys that I’m up against or girls I’m up against are engaging in that, and therefore I have to if I wish to catch up.” I think being part of the issue that we’ve had is the countries and individuals having looked at that and said, “Well, wait a minute, we can either finish 15th or we can do the same as what they do.”

 

If you think about it from a very logical standpoint, perhaps you can understand some of that thinking. There are cultural issues. Education is critical, but we have to be aggressive on education.

 

We have to be educated on what’s happening now with doping control, because that mitigates some of those issues that we talked about, “Well, if they’re doing it, I can do it.” We have to continue to go, “All right, what more can we do? Can we do this cheaper and better?” Which means we can test more. “Is there ways out there we can improve the way that we identify people to test?”

 

All of those things come together for a good doping control program. I will say, I do believe that’s an area of the IWF has significantly improved 2017 until now.

David TaoDavid Tao

We’ve talked a lot about the allegations in this report, some things that the IWF has made progress on specifically in regard to anti-doping and also some things where as you referenced, we just don’t know next steps because the report is so fresh.

 

We’re literally talking about 24 hours after this report came out, less than 24 hours after a lot of us have read it kind of front to cover. There are a lot of still unknowns moving forward and a lot of unknown next steps.

 

Right now, my best guess is as good as the next person’s in regard to how a lot of these allegations or how this report will actually change the governance of the sport of weightlifting at an international level.

 

Something that we do have a better grasp of and something that I know that you can speak to with a little bit more confidence on specifics is how the Olympic qualifying procedures for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. They’re still calling it the 2020 Olympics, or Tokyo 2020. It’s really Tokyo 2021 now. A bit of a branding nightmare if you ask me.

 

Qualification procedures for the Olympics that will occur in summer of 2021 in Tokyo. That’s something that is not covered in McLaren’s report.

Phil AndrewsPhil Andrews

No.

David TaoDavid Tao

It’s outside of the realm of the allegations race and the Lord of the Lifters documentary. I think it is still worth talking about because it’s highly relevant to the sport of weightlifting at the international level and highly relevant to, especially, a lot of American listeners, which makes up the majority of the listenership of this podcast for now.

 

We are getting more international. If you don’t mind, Phil, walk us through the updates to the Olympic qualifying procedures for 2021. I know a big question that’s been brought up is, “Hey, athletes who are already qualified for the Olympics, do they have to re-earn their spots?” They’ve already put in all this work over the last 24, 36 months.

 

Are their spots at risk of being lost? How does this impact Olympic qualifying procedure for weightlifting?

Phil AndrewsPhil Andrews

To explain this really briefly, this is an area where Aján has got it generally right of having six qualifiers, making people still offer doping testing more often. It has been held up as an example of anti-doping reform, the particular qualification system, which is relevant to the last question.

 

This is an area where I think Aján actually done a good job over the last few years. There are certainly are some questions on how this might work in the next quad and whether the point system might make sense. That’s next quad.

 

The first thing to say is the IOC said, “International Federations must use something essentially the same as what you’ve seen before. You can change the dates, but that’s about it.”

 

We were in a position where the last events that went ahead was the Manuel Suarez Tournament in Cuba and the Arnold Festival in Columbus, Ohio, USA which, of course, read barbend.com for what happened there.

 

It was those two over the same period of time. They were the last of the [inaudible 47:30] happened. Somebody said, “OK, we’re going to stop there. Then we are going to have a Period 3B.” It used to be Period 1, Period 2, Period 3. Now it’s Period 1, Period 2, Period 3A, and Period 3B.

 

That will occur from October 1 to April 30. You will be able to compete in just those events that were canceled. One Pan-American Championship and in our case the World American Championship in Colombia, which is due to happen in October. Potentially, if it is rearranged, the 2020 Junior World Champions.

 

Just because an event occurs in that period, doesn’t mean it counts. Only those that were already arranged in March and April of this year that were canceled. Now the one nuance to that is that you have to show up in those events.

 

Someone like CJ Cummings or Kate Nye had six events who had satisfied all their criteria, well-ranked, didn’t necessarily need to show up at the Pan Ams. [inaudible 48:28] , and Kate did withdraw. CJ had turned down his invitation, but he was planning on going to the Junior World.

 

Theoretically, neither had to lift again. Those two, for example, now do need to go and compete at least once during that Period 3B. Everyone stays where they were. If you score points even at the Arnold in Cuba, you get those points. In Period 3B, you don’t have to score, but you have to show up.

 

It’s still best from your Period 1, the best from your Period 2, the best from 3A or 3B, and then your next best. Theoretically, you couldn’t take food from this coming period if you’re able to put out those totals.

David TaoDavid Tao

You said they have to show up and compete, the examples of Kate Nye and CJ Cummings. Two lifters who I know the Olympic team has not officially announced yet for USA weightlifting. Two lifters very likely to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

 

You say you show up and compete. Really, they just need to go through doping controls. They need to weigh in. They don’t actually need to, as long as they’ve posted a total on three A that they’re happy to use. They don’t actually need to post a total in three B.

Phil AndrewsPhil Andrews

Theoretically correct. You could show up, wave to the crowd and leave, according to the IWF procedure. You’d have to make yourself illegible for [inaudible 49:45] .

 

On your C9 World Championships and certainly Grand Prix, that’s a championship where people have been showing up and signed out of the competition immediately after the introductions.

 

It’s worth critically saying that, that is the IWF’s procedure. If we have more than four in any one gender, the nation decides. What’s happening now is the US oversees state Olympic Committee, who own that procedure, and us, are working through thus, with the hope within the next couple weeks we’ll have that published to American Athletes.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Relevant to — I’m only speaking to the US team here — you’re not going to necessarily know the exact selection timing for Spain, Great Britain or Brazil. You may, you talk to a lot of people. When will we know the United States Olympic team for Tokyo…?

Phil AndrewsPhil Andrews

I do apologize. I don’t have it up in front of me, but the IWF procedure actually does denote those dates. When the National Olympic Committees have to give those names to the IWF. How reallocation works, I believe we’ll essentially know the final roster on May 29 if I remember correctly.

 

USOPC generally, is comfortable to announce someone as, on the road to Tokyo — you’re technically not an Olympia until you step on the field of play, so this is a technical term — but you are generally comfortable to announce somebody is going to Tokyo when it’s mathematically impossible for them not to go.

 

In other words, we should be in a position to announce that same on April 30th, which is the final day of the qualification, or May 1 of next year, when it’s mathematically impossible for anybody to eliminate them from the competition.

David TaoDavid Tao

This is something I know that we had chatted a lot about. We heard a lot of questions from readers on when in 2020 are we going to know the 2020 Olympian weightlifters or those on the road to Tokyo for the United States and for USA weightlifting.

 

This is just to confirm for folks listening in. Technically, you are going to have to wait until next spring to figure out who the teams are going to be.

Phil AndrewsPhil Andrews

Yeah, that’s right. It’s next spring before we can say, “Here is you ticket Tokyo.” And announce it in any way. The end of May is when the IWF roster becomes more solidified, so [inaudible 52:23] not just interested in the US, but interested in who’s China sending and who’s Brazil sending.

 

That sucks when you don’t know who, not only the US, but who our opponents are. It’s going to be exciting. I do think that the IWF has made a reasonable decision. I think that or say, what we did say they would end in March, so we’re going to keep with that.

 

I do think that the context of having people show up for doping before makes sense. It’s a fair way forward of saying, “We have just canceled the events.” I think that makes sense.

 

Of course, that might change who goes to the Olympic Games because there’s opportunities now that didn’t exist, injuries that may occur, or injuries that did occur that may now have been recovered from. It’s going to make it interesting watching.

 

I don’t know about anybody else, but I’m quite excited to see some international weightlifting eventually.

David TaoDavid Tao

Phil, that’s really what I wanted to cover today. It was a lot to cover. Actually, I’m surprised we fit it all in into this podcast, and we could talk literally for hours more about either subject, Olympic qualification procedure, the reversal of the qualification procedure, or the McLaren report.

 

I do appreciate you taking the time to dive into these topics today. Again, it is worth giving a little bit of additional context for folks listening in. There’s some known unknowns, and there are some unknown unknowns specifically in regard to next steps for the International Weightlifting Federation.

 

You could call it the fallout. You could call the impact of Richard McLaren’s report. Still, a lot that we will gain context with, I’m sure, over the coming weeks, months, and even years and into the next Olympic quad, so to speak. We’ll keep readers and listeners updated as best we can on barbend.com.

 

Phil, I always ask, where is the best place for people to keep up to date with the work you’re doing? I say, content you are pushing out because you’re doing a lot more writing it seems, these days — official statements and things like that.

Phil AndrewsPhil Andrews

Yeah, it’s being relevant for us is certainly in the United States to comment on what’s happening on social justice. June is a month we typically…We led the NGBs in being the first to celebrate Pride and now, a vast majority do.

 

Of course, this June there’s a very serious social justice conversation to be had, particularly around the treatment of African Americans in this country. I don’t want to prolong our time here, but we thought we could not stand on the sidelines for that.

 

Yes, certainly we’re doing a little bit more. I’ve been very lucky to have various different people reach out to ask about, what with the COVID-19 [inaudible 55:08] has generally done relatively well, all things considered.

 

Considering we are a sport organization with no sport going on, we’ve done better than most. That doesn’t mean we’ve done great, just means we’ve done better than most. That’s been a privilege to be able to comment on some of that. I’m going to share some of the good work we’re doing.

 

Of course, there is likely to be lots of work ahead — both domestically — in order to work through ’20 and ’21. ’21 being the year where, to be honest, it’s going to be a challenge because we have a world championship and Olympic games at Pan Ams, and another Pan Ams and all that’s got to be funded.

 

We don’t know where the economy is going to be. There’s definitely some challenges ahead for us that we still have to address. Of course, with my role at the IWF, however long that lasts, looks like it will be busier than it was based on yesterday’s, or rather, Thursday’s information.

 

I generally comment on the art of USA Weightlifting. I am the spokesperson, generally, for USA Weightlifting. Whereas I’m not fully IWF. I’ll be clear about that.

 

I’m always happy to hear from members and take suggestions of what we could do better as USA Weightlifting. That’s particularly relevant.

To your question, you can find me on Instagram on a.phil or Twitter @PhilAndrewsUSA. Those are the best places to generally see those sorts of writing you were talking about. You can get hold of me by email, [email protected] and I always have podcasts gave out my number to 719-200-6020.

David TaoDavid Tao

 

Thanks so much for joining us, Phil.

Phil AndrewsPhil Andrews

 

No worries. Thanks.

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