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The ITA concludes investigation into a decade of rule violations in weightlifting, charges current and former IWF officials

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The international testing agency (ITA) publishes a report on anti-doping rule violations (ADRVs) following a series of allegations of misconduct by the international weightlifting federation (IWF), providing an overview of the findings of the investigation into approximately 146 unresolved cases over the 2009-2019 period. The report notably uncovers mishandling and impropriety on the part of certain IWF Officials in relation to its anti-doping program. As a consequence of these discoveries, the ITA has – among other follow-up actions – asserted ADRVs against former IWF president Tamas Ajan, IWF Vice-President Nicolae Vlad, and Hassan Akkus, President of the European Weightlifting Confederation.

As the organisation leading an independent anti-doping program for the IWF, including the delegation of results management activities since 2019, it is the ITA’s mandated duty of transparency to provide clear answers to the below allegations brought to public attention by different actors and to investigate 146 unresolved cases over the 2009-2019 period that have been passed on to the ITA by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). A transparency that is owed to athletes, the weightlifting community at-large and anti-doping stakeholders.

As background, allegations of misconduct by the IWF regarding its anti-doping program were uncovered and publicly exposed by different sources over the past 18 months. Following a documentary by the German broadcaster ARD, which conveyed allegations of financial and electoral corruption and unsanctioned doping offences under the auspices of the IWF, the IWF Executive Board appointed Professor Richard H. McLaren to carry out an investigation into these claims. Prof. McLaren’s resulting report uncovered irregularities in the IWF anti-doping program, including the discovery of a large number of unprocessed cases of ADRVs predating the delegation by the IWF of its anti-doping program to the ITA. Those cases were passed to the ITA for investigation and appropriate action where possible.

In October 2020, the Intelligence & Investigations Department of WADA (WADA I&I) issued a public report to convey its work into the IWF since 2017. The document described four investigations which looked into wrongdoings related to anti-doping practices in the sport of weightlifting, including “Operation Arrow” pertaining to the practice of urine substitution by athletes and the use of doppelgängers within the sport of weightlifting.

Over the course of the past eight months, the ITA has gathered and reviewed evidence and conducted interviews with interested parties and whistleblowers with the aim to draw evidence-based conclusions only. The ITA was hampered by the depth and breadth of the IWF’s past years of inaction, which resulted into 29 unsanctioned doping violations being impossible to prosecute due to statute of limitation and/or destruction of evidence. The reasons why these cases were unprocessed and/or unsanctioned, ranged from mere administrative oversight, poor record keeping, chaotic organisational processes, or jurisdictional errors – on one end of the spectrum – to indifference, outright negligence, complicity, or – at worst – blatant and intentional cover-ups.

Over the course of the ITA investigation, it transpired that some IWF and national Member Federation officials had themselves also committed ADRVs of complicity and tampering in relation to certain cases. In the scope of the ITA’s mandate to vigorously pursue all potential ADRVs under the IWF’s jurisdiction, the ITA has thus asserted ADRVs against current and former IWF officials Tamas Ajan, former IWF President, Nicolae Vlad IWF Vice-President and current President of the Romanian Weightlifting Federation and Hassan Akkus, President of the European Weightlifting Confederation and former President of the Turkish Weightlifting Federation. The exact charges and evidence against these three officials are detailed in the ITA report and include covering up, delaying and obstructing results management for certain athletes that committed ADRVs in order for them to participate in high-level sporting events such as the Olympic Games and collusion to avoid potential fines and suspensions.

The ITA has also followed up on many of the doping allegations initially exposed by the ARD documentary and has launched proceedings against athletes for urine sample manipulation based on cases passed on by WADA I&I. It has also identified a number of action items that could help further reinforce the global anti-doping system and will be liaising with WADA as the global anti-doping regulator to address these constraints. The ITA suggests encouraging the systematic storage and re-analysis of samples, and that special attention is given to other key areas such as whereabouts management, identity management, ADAMS access, results management follow-ups, doping control officers’ supervision and certification, and an intelligence-based approach to anti-doping.

Whilst this large-scale investigation necessarily triggers other investigations and follow up actions by the ITA, it is ITA’s belief and intent that this report will enable the IWF to get to the bottom of the past misconduct, fix its issues and focus on the development of its sport and promotion of its athletes while the ITA ensures professional and independent anti-doping operations free from any political, national or sporting interests.

“Since the outset, the approach of ITA’s investigation was an evidence-based, fact finding inquiry into allegations of misconduct by the IWF – and we did exactly that: find facts”, says ITA Director General Benjamin Cohen. “While a lot of work remains to be done, the ITA is encouraged by the many ongoing reforms and the fact that all anti-doping operations are now fully and independently handled by the ITA. The previous deficiencies in the results management process identified in the ITA report as well as during other investigations on the sport of weightlifting would no longer be possible under the current framework. In addition, the conclusions of the ITA investigation demonstrate that the independent management of anti-doping programs, such as by the ITA, is extremely important for the integrity and credibility of sport. In fact, this report illustrates why the delegation by the IWF of its anti-doping program to the ITA works and was the right decision. The ITA will continue to pursue vigorously any violation of the anti-doping rules and to cooperate with any relevant authority or individual who, like the ITA, want sport to be clean and fair.”

Due acknowledgments must also be made to the robust investigative journalism that has led to crucial discoveries by the team behind the ARD documentary and the subsequent McLaren report on IWF, in addition to whistleblowing by athletes and other concerned professionals, including IWF staff and the WADA I&I team, in exposing allegations of delayed notification, missed sanctioning, and other alleged misconduct in the sport of weightlifting.

Anyone who has information that has the potential to assist ITA in its investigations into doping can share it in complete confidence or anonymously through REVEAL.

Please find the abovementioned ITA report on IWF here.

The original article can be found here.

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