2020 Tokyo Olympics: Gender Equality for Weightlifting, But Men Lose Weight Class

In a press release published on the International Olympic Committee’s website, the IOC announced the total number of weightlifting athletes at the 2020 Tokyo Games will be reduced to 196 (compared to 260 from the 2016 Rio Olympics). And while the number of male and female weightlifters in 2020 will be equal for the first time in Olympic history, this will come from a reduction in men’s weight classes as opposed to the addition of an eighth weight class for women.

This may come as a surprise to weightlifting fans, especially because late last year the International Weightlifting Federation approved an eighth women’s weight class (90kg) to create gender equality in international competition (there were already eight men’s weight classes). Now, it appears that while the IWF has approved the women’s 90kg weight class, the IOC does not plan on using it in Olympic competition, and the men will lose a to-be-determined weight category.

This also means the maximum number of Olympic weightlifting spots available to qualifying countries will be reduced from 10 (six for men, four for women) to eight (four for each gender).

An article published on Inside the Games gave additional insight into the IOC’s decision, which comes after a tumultuous period for international weightlifting involving numerous doping allegations and positive retests from the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. IOC President Thomas Bach was further quoted on the organization’s motivation in reducing the total number of weightlifting athletes, which sent a strong message from the IOC to the IWF:

“All must remain compliant with the Olympic Charter and the World Anti-Doping Code. We have sent a strong signal to weightlifting by reducing the quota for athletes for Tokyo 2020.”

According to analysis published by Inside the Games, “It will be up to the International Weightlifting Federation and the International Boxing Association to propose exactly which men’s events will be cut from the programme.” (Two of boxing’s men’s events will be replaced by additional female events.)

Now the IWF is left with a tough decision on which weight class to eliminate.

Phil Andrews, CEO of USA Weightlifting, shared his thoughts on the IOC’s announcements, applauding their commitment to gender equality but expressing sadness at the loss of total athlete spots.

“USA Weightlifting applauds the IOC and the IWF for taking this critical step towards Gender equality, and to retain it’s place at the very core of the Olympic Games program,” Andrews said.

“We are of course very sad to see that the total number of Olympic events is reduced to 14 total, and we wait to see the next steps regarding team size, qualification and which categories will be contested.”

Each year, weightlifting continues to grow, so these newly formed goals and cuts, while positive in some respects, leave the IWF and weightlifters with tough decisions. Possibly the toughest part of this news will be waiting to find out which men’s class the IWF will eliminated.

Feature image screenshot from @kamicraigusa shared on @olympics Instagram page.