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  • WADA Releases Findings on Weightlifting


    (ATR) World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) President Witold Bańka says his organization is “appalled” by what it has uncovered during a years-long investigation into weightlifting.

    WADA put weightlifting under the microscope during a three-year investigation. (ATR)
    WADA also revealed that during the investigation it had developed a new method of detecting the prohibited practice of urine substitution at the point of collection and the use of sample surrogates or ‘doppelgängers’.

    The provisional findings of WADA’s independent Intelligence and Investigations (I&I) department were published Oct. 22 following more than three years of examining the activities of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) and the sport as a whole.

    The WADA investigation, which began in August 2017, was divided into four parts.

    Operation Outreach

    The first was Operation Outreach, which looked into claims that a high-ranking member of the IWF was paid to promote Russian interests and to protect Russian athletes from detection.

    According to WADA, by mid-2019 confidential sources “detailed a history of protection orchestrated from within the highest levels of the IWF to the benefit of ‘doped’ Russian weightlifters. More specifically, between 2012 and 2016, a high-ranking member of the IWF purportedly received about $5,000,000 USD from Russian entities to cover up allegations of doping by Russian weightlifters. These monies were concealed within the IWF under the banner of “fines” (Administrative Fines) imposed under the IWF Anti-Doping Policy”.

    The report says that details cannot be disclosed at this time because the allegations are now the subject of further, ongoing legal investigations.

    Former IWF president Tamas Aján (ATR)
    Additionally, the report stated that confidential sources claimed the then IWF president Tamas Aján “routinely used the influence of his honorary Hungarian “diplomatic passport” to transport large sums of money in and out of Hungary undisturbed. A diplomatic passport ordinarily ensures that the holder and their luggage are exempt from any interference or inspection by border control.”

    Operation Outreach found that there was a discrepancy of almost $3 million between the total value of Administrative Fines received by the IWF as published on the IWF website, and those recorded internally by the IWF. WADA believes the discrepancy partially corroborated the claims of the confidential sources.

    Operation Heir

    Operation Heir, the second prong of the investigation, looked into allegations of an organized doping and protection scheme operating within Romanian weightlifting.

    This investigation was carried out covertly to avoid exposing the confidential sources who reported it. The results of Operation Heir were sent to law enforcement and that investigation is ongoing.

    Operation Extra

    The third part of the investigation is called Operation Extra. Its objective was to collect, collate and assess all weightlifting intelligence received by the I&I Department in order to ensure all intelligence relevant to the other operations was identified and triaged.

    Operation Extra, according to the report “identified over 30 current or former athletes suspected of doping, over 15 current or former coaches suspected of assisting their athletes in doping, and over 10 current or former officials suspected of knowingly facilitating the doping of athletes under their supervision. This intelligence has been disseminated to trusted partners for further investigations.”

    Information from Richard McLaren's report on the IWF was used by WADA in its investigations. (WADA)
    WADA's report concluded "The McLaren IWF investigation and the I&I Department investigations point to a system of patronage for protection directed by former IWF President, Mr Aján. This system appears to have allowed certain National Federations to operate with virtual doping impunity.

    “Operation Extra intelligence suggests that the mismanagement of some National Federations represents a major weakness, which has allowed doping to thrive within the sport.

    “Operation Extra intelligence also suggests that, among certain National Federations, promising young athletes were protected, while those with less potential were either encouraged to dope or used as donors of clean urine.

    “The allegations received by Operation Extra would suggest the problems faced by weightlifting are not centralized in any particular country or region but are more global.”

    Operation Extra also concluded that “many weightlifters had little to no confidence that their national and international federation was protecting their best interests and the sport’s best interests” and “many expressed their disillusion that the situation would ever change”.

    Operation Arrow

    The final part was Operation Arrow, a covert investigation into the practice of urine substitution at the point of collection.

    Armed with the new detection method, suspected cases involving 18 weightlifters from six countries were uncovered. These cases will be presented to the International Testing Agency (ITA), to which the IWF has now delegated the conduct of its anti-doping program, for results management. WADA I&I found evidence of "doppelgängers" being used to impersonate athletes during the sample collection process, ensuring clean urine was fraudulently provided.

    Operation Arrow remains ongoing, with a focus on those who may be involved in facilitating the athletes who are doping. The report says numerous persons of interest, including athletes, DCOs, coaches, team doctors and officials have been identified..

    WADA says the methodology applied by Operation Arrow in identifying actual and suspected cases of urine substitution can be easily applied to other sports.

    It says the I&I department will share what it has learned with other sports, National and Regional Anti-Doping Organizations, Major Event Organizations, laboratories and Athlete Passport Management Units to ensure a global and united effort to address urine substitution.

    WADA President Wants Increased Access

    “WADA is appalled by what its Intelligence and Investigations Department has uncovered in this investigation,” WADA President Witold Bańka said in a statement.

    WADA President Witold Banka addresses IOC Session in January. (ATR)
    “For too long, clean weightlifters have had to deal with an entrenched culture of doping in their sport, where the promotion of fear ensured that the truth remained hidden and that those who wanted to do the right thing were isolated.

    “Once again this has shown the importance of whistleblower information and the positive difference that can be made when people with information have the courage to come forward. Intelligence from well-placed confidential sources, coupled with the diligent work of WADA Intelligence and Investigations, is delivering significant results across a host of investigations.”

    Bańka added “I believe this report shows clearly that it is time to start a discussion as to whether WADA should be granted additional powers of investigation, including unfettered access to all relevant internal documents and servers within the organization under investigation.”

    The release of the provisional findings, which can be found here, comes a week after the IWF removed interim president Ursula Papandrea on Oct. 13. She had been leading a reform process to repair a litany of issues since the official resignation of Aján in April.

    The IOC said it was "very worried" about her ouster and said it was "highly concerned" when the IWF board of directors chose IWF medical director Michael Irani to replace her on an interim basis three days later. Irani admits that the federation must get its house in order or the IOC will remove the sport from the Paris 2024 program.

    Written by Gerard Farek

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