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New ITA Report Reveals Doping Violations, Corruption, and Cover-Ups in Weightlifting

On June 24, the International Testing Agency (ITA) released its report that shared findings in 146 previously unsolved doping-related cases between the years 2009 to 2019 following an eight-month-long investigation. Per the International Weightlifting Federation’s (IWF) press release, the “ITA’s investigation found…inadequacies, mismanagement, and apparent subversion of anti-doping processes within weightlifting.” There are 29 cases “ranging from administrative incompetence to coverups” that proved to be too late to prosecute.

Most notably, the ITA asserted anti-doping rule violations (ARDV) against current and former IWF President Tamás Aján, IWF Vice President Nicolae Vlad, and President of the European Weightlifting Confederation (EWC) Hasan Akkus.

[Related: USA Weightlifting Announces 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games Roster]

Offenses By High Ranking Officials Within the IWF and Member Federations

Notably, Tamás Aján, Nicole Vlad, and Hasan Akkus were charged by the ITA. It is unclear at the time what these charges will mean for the three men.

Tamás Aján

The ITA’s partnership with the IWF was established following the release of the German documentary Secret Doping — The Lord of the Lifters, which alleged financial corruption and doping cover-ups by former IWF President Aján. The McLaren Report, released by lead investigator Richard McLaren, confirmed the financial corruption to $10.4 million.

The ITA says that Aján intentionally allowed and implemented the cover-up of 23 AAFs (adverse analytical findings) committed by Azerbaijani weightlifters in 2013. Those cases were not made publically available by the IWF until months after the fact nor were they “sanctioned in a timely manner.” This lead the ITA to conclude that Aján “purposefully concealed the cases from WADA for months to allow the Azerbaijani athletes to compete in the 2013 IWF World Championships…and the 2013 IWF Grand Prix & 2nd Baku International Cup.”

Aján’s “purposeful obstruction” of WADA’s inquiries into pending AAF cases before 2014 led to “50 unprocessed and unsanctioned ADRVs including 29 cases that the ITA could not salvage.”

Nicolae Vlad

During their investigation, the ITA “uncovered a case included in the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) List with troubling ramifications of a cover-up at the highest levels of the IWF and that related to the most coveted event, the Olympic Games.”

Romanian weightlifter Roxana Cocos finished second place at the 2012 European Championships in Antalya, Turkey, while she had a pending AAF for anabolic steroids from April 13, 2012. Cocos also competed that year at the London Olympic Games. She placed second in the 69-kilogram weight class.

Before competing at the 2012 London Olympic Games, Cocos was provisionally suspended twice for ADRV and urine sample manipulation, both of which were not pursued by the IWF. This information was known by the IWF Vice President and IWF Anti-Doping Chairman at the time, Nicolae Vlad, who was also the President of the Romanian Weightlifting Federation (FRH), and then IWF President Tamás Aján. Since then, a re-analysis program of the 2008 Olympic Games launched by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) revealed that “the entire FRH delegation at the London Games was doping.”

The ITA asserted ADRVs against Mr. Tamás Aján and Mr Nicolae Vlad for tampering and complicity in the multiple ADRVs committed by Ms Cocos.

Hasan Akkus

In 2013, Hasan Akkus was President of the Turkey Weightlifting Federation (TWF). The ITA asserts that during that time, he “colluded with the IWF to change the responsible authority for 17 Turkish athletes from the IWF to the TWF.” This change allowed those athletes to avoid being sanctioned for positive drug tests taken in November and December of 2012. Those sanctions would have amounted to four years of ineligibility and a fine of up to $500,000.

[Related: Romanian Weightlifting Federation Suspended Ahead of Tokyo Olympic Games]

More Key Investigation Findings

Here are more key findings of the ITA’s investigation:

  • Sixty-seven of the 146 cases had already been previously resolved by the IWF without clear confirmation given to WADA. The ITA provided those decisions to WADA and confirmed that the corresponding “sanctions had been effectively implemented.”
  • Five of the 146 cases were found not to be ADRVs, and 12 cases were resumed.
  • Twenty-nine previous cases were unprocessed due to “poor organization skills…jurisdictional mix-up…passivity, and…blatant cover-up.” Those cases ultimately did not result in sanctions because of the statute of limitations issues — “athletes were never informed of the AAFs within the 10-year period and/or unavailability of evidence.”
  • The ITA said the “IWF’s management of data and information pertaining to anti-doping was chaotic at best.” They specifically noted that there was “no centralized control, no audit trails, no comprehensive database, and no case management systems in place.” Due to this, doping results management was hindered from 2009-2014.

Thai Amateur Weightlifting Federation

Seven athletes in the Thai Amateur Weightlifting Federation (TAWA) were “properly sanctioned” for ADRVs acquired between 2010 and 2011. In 2011 and 2012, 93 TAWA athletes — 18 male, 67 female — tested positive for anabolic steroids. The IWF was provided a document that indicated those athletes were sanctioned and ineligible to compete for two years. However, the volume of AAFs found “did not alarm the IWF, nor trigger a reaction.” The ITA points to this example as an indication of previous “nonchalance” by the IWF when it came to “the systemic issue of the prevalence of doping in some regions.”

Weightlifters from Thailand will be allowed to compete at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games

Egyptian Weightlifting Federation

Eleven cases were deemed “Lost Cases” as archives for them were not recoverable, per the Egyptian Weightlifting Federation (EWF). However, three cases from 2011 were recoverable and not within breach of any statute of limitations. The athletes in question have all since received sanctions from the EWF. There were seven ADRVs in 2016 and six AAFs in 2019. The IWF was aware of doping issues in Egypt at the time, and their “indifference contributed to the story repeating itself.”

Per the IWF’s press release, they “encourage all those with knowledge of doping in weightlifting, whether historical or current, to use the confidential whistleblower reporting mechanisms of REVEAL and/or SPEAK UP.”

Feature image: @iwfnet on Instagram

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