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  • Girls to the Rescue for Weightlifting


    (ATR) A call to reform the International Weightlifting Federation may benefit from the feminine perspective.

    Acting IWF president Ursula Papandrea (ATR)
    An American weightlifting leader pilots the IWF as it braces for a raft of changes after doping and financial scandals. But Ursula Papandrea isn’t the only woman who can help solve the problems of the federation.

    ATR Editor Ed Hula says look to Japan in this OpEd written for Mainichi Shimbun.

    The sport of weightlifting is on the brink of disaster at the Olympic Games. Women may lead the rescue.

    Already under watch by the International Olympic Committee for chronic doping issues, the International Weightlifting Federation faces a new crisis in the wake of a German TV documentary. The program exposed allegations of corruption and collusion involving finances and doping that could threaten the status of weightlifting at the Olympics.

    It’s slipping already. In Tokyo this summer, 196 men and women will compete for medals. That’s 70 fewer than 12 years ago in Beijing. The cuts were ordered by the IOC as a consequence of rampant doping problems from past Olympics.

    Richard McLaren is investigating the IWF. (ATR)
    Dozens of athletes have been disqualified from Beijing, London and Rio de Janeiro for positive tests. Many were caught years later through IOC retesting of samples. The problem is so pervasive that some weightlifters who were elevated in the medal standings as a result of disqualifications were themselves disqualified following retesting.

    At the 2020 Olympics, 17 countries will have their weightlifting quotas cut drastically due to positive drug tests. Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia are the worst offenders.

    And if doping isn’t enough to destroy the sport’s reputation, the German documentary has forced the IWF to investigate whether corruption among leaders of the organization may be part of the problem.

    Richard McLaren, the Canadian lawyer whose 2016 report on Russia and doping broke open the scandal now plaguing all Russian sports, has been commissioned by the IWF to uncover any wrongdoing in weightlifting. His initial findings are expected in March.

    The inquiry is likely to put a glaring spotlight on the leadership of Tamas Ajan, president of the federation for the past 20 years and secretary general for decades prior. The 81-year-old Hungarian has been ordered to step aside from his duties while the inquiry is underway.

    Taking his place as acting president is Ursula Papandrea. Former president of USA Weightlifting, the 51-year-old college teacher is one of the pioneers of women’s weightlifting. As the first woman to lead the federation she is a trailblazer.

    In breaking the mold as president of a male-dominated federation, Papandrea is eager also to shatter the image of weightlifting as a drug-riddled sport. While there is progress to report, she and her colleagues are bracing themselves for more heavy lifting if the McLaren report exposes dark secrets.

    Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike (ATR)
    Regardless of what McLaren finds, the IWF has plenty to fix. Papandrea will need all the help she can get to restore the integrity of this Olympic sport.

    Just as Papandrea seems an unlikely savior for weightlifting, Yuriko Koike is another.

    While she is the first female Tokyo Metropolitan Governor, Koike managed to break the “iron ceiling” as the first woman president of the Japan Weightlifting Association. She gave up the post in 2016 when she was elected governor.

    Koike has been busy since then shaking up preparations for the 2020 Olympics. But once the flame goes out, perhaps the most powerful woman in Japanese politics can help turn things around for her sport of weightlifting.

    Homepage photo of Kate Nye of the USA, who was named 2019 Woman Lifter of the Year by IWF: Lima 2019

    Written by Ed Hula

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