USA Weightlifting CEO Phil Andrews responds to today’s documentary from the ARD Doping Editorial Team looking at doping and corruption in the sport.

Responding to the ARD Documentary

Sunday evening’s ARD documentary looking at doping and corruption issues in the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) highlights both the significant need for the rehabilitation of the sport, especially in the area of Anti-Doping, as well as where the sport has vastly improved in recent years.

Since 2017, the IWF, supported by several national governing bodies including USA Weightlifting (USAW), have made significant strides forward in the rehabilitation of the sport.

While that progress has been impactful, particularly on anti-doping focused Olympic qualification, significant increases in anti-doping whereabouts enforcement, amount of doping control tests, the out-sourcing to the International Testing Agency (ITA) and a commitment to education, this documentary proves the work can never stop – as we haven’t stopped in the United States since changing our culture from the 1990s to today.

In particular, the Clean Sport Commission made up of reputable experts from around the world – including the United States and Germany – whose recommendations must continue to be built up. These recommendations have led to the recent sanction of Egypt for multiple offences.

USA Weightlifting stands ready to assist the IWF and any other investigatory body in further actions to improve clean sport and governance in our sport, to share best practices amongst national federations.

The need for immediate investigation of ARD allegations
Alarming allegations made directly against the leadership of the Thai Amateur Weightlifting Federation require the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)’s Intelligence and Investigations (I&I) unit to investigate the alleged doping of athletes and child athletes. Any individual found to have aided or encouraged the doping of the Thai team, especially of minors, ought to be sanctioned severely. A similar investigation also ought to take place in Egypt.

Similarly, the WADA I&I unit must investigate the allegations raised by Moldovan doctors against the Hungarian Anti-Doping Agency. We strongly recommend the ITA engage with alternative testing agencies while any investigation is ongoing. Moldovan officials involved in any alleged bribe, and any other nation involved must clearly also be held to account under the WADA code, as well as any other nation highlighted during the investigation. 

Finally, we call on the IWF to explain the allegations regarding the management of finances of the Federation.

The need for a clean Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, and beyond
We call upon both the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the IWF to retest all held samples, using the latest technology, for those most likely to appear in the 2020 Olympic Games. The 2020 Olympic qualification system allows for it to be clear who is likely to go to the Olympic Games.

The allegations raised by Thai lifter, Gulnoi, show that it’s likely there are still tested athletes with samples on hand that may have cheated our sport. 

Similarly, we applaud the increased testing of athletes from the IWF. Ahead of the Olympic Games, the IOC and the IWF must engage in an aggressive testing program equally across the world.

The need for the athlete voice
The IWF have made progress in good governance, but we encourage the IWF to strengthen the athlete voice, both amongst current and alumni athletes from around the world. In the USA, we have 20% of current athletes on our board, with further alumni taking our percentage of those with significant athletic experience in weightlifting to over 50%.

It is extremely important that WADA and the sporting community take a hard look at other nations that may be engaging in similar crimes against sport such as those seen in Russia, and similar sanctions be directed to them. 

Weightlifting should be about fair sport and fantastic competitive performances, not about suspicion and cheating. The fight continues to ensure that we can find out who the strongest athletes in the world are to the extent the human body allows, not the extent allowed by pharmaceutical enhancements.

There are cheats and dishonest people in everyday life, so there will be cheats in sport as well. What is essential is to remain determined to consistently and relentlessly fight against doping. 

It’s important to remember that weightlifting athletes in the United States are amongst the most tested athletes worldwide. 

We continue to encourage and call on our partners at the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and the ITA to test our athletes at the elite and grassroots levels since we must have the same or greater commitment to a clean platform in the United States as our athletes have the right to expect internationally when they step onto the stage.

It is important that testing processes utilise recent advancements in technology to ensure that nothing is missed. At USAW, we have partnered with USADA to implement a pilot program called Dried Blood Spot (DBS) testing with the goal of significantly increasing the number of athletes tested.

This DBS testing has been used in addition to standard blood and urine testing at no reduction to traditional testing, which means that our events are the most tested in USA Weightlifting history.

Our LiftClean program also sees testing right down to the local level and an additional random testing requirement for a minimum of six months before you can represent the USA in international competition.

Finally, the US requires all athletes to submit to random testing a minimum of six months ahead of competing internationally, compared to the IWF’s three-month window. This gives a further protection to ensure that the United States does everything that we can to ensure Team USA is clean when we send Team USA to compete abroad.

We have produced World Champions and World Junior Champions through clean and fair participation. It should also be remembered that our most recent Olympic Champion, Tara Nott Cunningham, was denied the opportunity to stand on top of the podium by a doping athlete from Kazakhstan. 

All sports can fall foul of dopers, particularly if they become complacent, which we never will.

Clearly the reports in the ARD documentary are concerning and do not paint a positive picture of the state of our sport, however there have been significant improvements in recent years, including:

The IWF, with the support of USAW and other national federations and national anti-doping agencies, have worked hard to put in place processes to counter those who believe cheating is acceptable in our sport and according to the IOC, we have made great progress.

Domestically, in 2009 and again in 2017 we had a full governance review of USA Weightlifting, to ensure we are transparent and inclusive with our membership at all times. 

Perhaps the best example is publishing our operating accounts every three months and hosting regular membership Q&As where no question is off limits. 

The IOC outlined four requirements the IWF had to meet to stay on the Olympic programme post-Tokyo 2020 including the full implementation of the recommendations from the Independent Clean Sport Commission and the Sport Programme Commission; the completion of the WADA code compliance monitoring programme and a questionnaire report on corrective actions.

The IWF has introduced a new Anti-Doping Policy and has secured WADA compliance, as well as implementing a number of measures in addition to the IOC’s stated requirements, with strict sanctions for multiple offenders. In this area, there is never ‘enough’, and more must continue to be done to ensure a clean platform. 

The IWF has introduced a new Qualification System designed to reward nations with a history of clean weightlifting, which has drawn praise from the IOC, including rewarding nations with clean records by giving them the opportunity to win additional Olympic quotas and limiting those with a track record of doping.

The IWF has also focused on education in order to change cultures and was involved in several education seminars for suspended nations with a high frequency of doping, and developed – in partnership with USAW and USADA – a mandatory online education protocol, similar to the one implemented by USA Weightlifting.

At USAW, we became the first National Governing Body in the USA to implement mandatory anti-doping education for all national and above athletes.

Clearly the allegations made in the ARD documentary are of concern and I would urge the IWF to work closely with investigations into these allegations.

It is vital for the future of our great sport that the positive steps taken are re-enforced and strengthened by further action against those who cheat the sport, and thorough investigations of the allegations made especially those regarding doping in Thailand and Moldova.

It is important that no stone is left unturned and that full and thorough investigations take place to bring anyone guilty of a misdemeanor to justice.

I would expect anyone who is found to have been involved in the incidents mentioned in the ARD documentary to be heavily sanctioned.