In recent weeks, the weightlifting world has been rocked by allegations of corruption stemming from the IWF’s vote to replace Interim President Ursula Papandrea. Papandrea led the IWF after Dr. Tamas Ajan’s resignation earlier in 2020; a report led by Professor Richard McLaren’s team later implicated Ajan in widespread financial and voting corruption, with over $10 million unaccounted for. The IWF’s vote to replace Papandrea was seen by many as a power grab from those formerly loyal to Ajan. Her immediate replacement — Intarat Yodbangtoey of Thailand — was identified in the McLaren Report as a key figure in vote bribing at the IWF’s highest levels.
The move was criticized by USA Weightlifting, the International Olympic Committee, and numerous other sports governing bodies. Just two days later, Yodbangtoey resigned, and Dr. Michael Irani was named the new Interim President.
But the period after Yodbangtoey’s resignation has seen little reduction in public outcry against the IWF. Chair of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) Athlete Commission Sarah Davies started an online petition calling for IWF reform, which as of this writing now has over 12,000 public signatures. While the IWF Executive Board has announced elections for March 2021, many member federations are pushing for action — and elections — much sooner.
Now, Canadian weightlifter and multi-time World Championships competitor Rachel Leblanc-Bazinet is spearheading and effort to get elite weightlifters to publicly call for IWF reform via social media. Leblanc-Bazinet — the sister of 2014 CrossFit Games Champion Camille Leblanc-Bazinet — caught up with BarBend about her initiative in support of Davies’ petition. As of this writing, nearly three dozen Olympic and World Championships competitors have posted with Leblanc-Bazinet’s template on Instagram.
Note: The interview below has been edited for clarity with the subject’s permission:
BarBend: You recently put a callout on social media for weightlifting athletes who have competed at the international level. Can you explain the purpose and what you’re hoping to do?
Rachel Leblanc-Bazinet: This call to action is an effort to denounce the latest IWF behavior. The clean athletes are trying to come together and to show to the IOC that we don’t agree and that we do not support the IWF decisions. That we want changes now and that we will not tolerate the corruption that the IWF board committee are involved with.
What has been your personal reaction to the IWF’s most recent leadership shakeups?
For me it was devastating, but at the same time not surprising at all. After the corruption scandal of Tamas Ajan back in January and the arrival of Ursula Papandrea (as Interim President), we finally had a some hope and thought that it might finally change and that the sport will be finally clean and reward athletes that truly deserve it. But with last week events, it felt like we went back to the 80’s.
Do you have thoughts on the existing IWF Athlete’s Commission? Have you communicated with them in any capacity regarding your efforts?
I was asked by Mark House, who is working alongside of Sarah Davies. They are the ones who created the movement, but I wanted to help them and reach out for more athletes so we could make more noise and be heard properly. Being on the Canadian National team for the past couple of years I knew that I would have a good reach and used it to my advantage to help the sport to survive and to make sure that the IOC will hear that we do not support the IWF.
What steps would you like to see weightlifting governing bodies — at the national and international levels — take when it comes to competition experience and athletes’ interests?
Obviously, we all want the doping and corruption to stop. It’s so unfair for all clean athletes to never get what they deserve. For years doping cases where hidden and great athletes never received what they should, and we are really hoping for that to change. Also, knowing that there was $10 million of corruption under Tamas Ajan’s presidency, it is extremely frustrating since that money could have been reinvested in the sport — even given the athletes some funding to help them perform.
Editor’s Note: BarBend is the Official Media Partner of USA Weightlifting. The two organizations maintain editorial independence apart from specially designated partnership content.