Weightlifting officials fear their sport could be kicked out of the Olympics

Senior officials have admitted weightlifting's Olympic future is in jeopardy because of rampant doping by many of the sport's most successful nations.

Almost half of the 98 athletes caught in the International Olympic Committee's retesting of anti-doping samples from the Beijing and London Games have come from weightlifting, making a mockery of the results.

In the men's 94kg competition at London 2012, to give one example, the medals will now go to the athletes who finished fifth, eighth and ninth, while Kazakhstan will end up losing five golds across the two Games and China three from 2008.

Paul Coffa, the general secretary of the Oceania Weightlifting Federation, told Press Association Sport he was deeply worried about the sport's status.

"The doping results which have now surfaced in the last few months are of great concern to many international officials and, more importantly, the International Weightlifting Federation," said Coffa.

"Weightlifting has been on the Olympic programme since 1896 - it is one of the core sports and has close to 200 affiliated nations.

"But with the introduction of new sports to the Olympic Games we obviously have to be concerned about our future. We should never take things for granted."

With the International Olympic Committee under pressure to ease the financial burden on host cities and freshen up its brand for younger audiences, every sport is reviewed after each Games. Four years ago, wrestling was voted off the programme, only for frantic lobbying to reverse the decision in 2013.

But with baseball/softball, climbing, karate, skateboarding and surfing all being added to the schedule for Tokyo 2020, many Olympic watchers are wondering which sports will eventually have to make way.

The chief executive of British Weigh Lifting Ashley Metcalfe said: "We would always be concerned about any suggestion the sport's status is in jeopardy.

"And while that decision is in the hands of International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee, it is every national federation's battle.

"We know the IOC is looking to create a more positive brand that appeals to a wider audience, so it no surprise that sports that are deemed to bring negatives and be high-risk will be talked about."

Metcalfe, however, stressed the sport has moved forward in terms of its appeal and its attempts to tackle doping.

But, if the IOC drops the sport, Metcalfe said: "It would be the end of all our funding and the sport would get extremely niche and underground."

Both Coffa, a former head coach of the Australian team, and Metcalfe believe the IWF is now addressing the problem.

Bulgaria, a repeat offender, was fined and given a one-year ban last November when 11 of its weightlifters failed tests and Russia was blocked from sending a team to Rio after a World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned report revealed rampant cheating.

In fact, Russia's team would have received an automatic ban for returning three positives from the 2008 and 2012 retests, but the IOC was unable to process the cases in time.

Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, China and Kazakhstan should also have been banned from Rio, but because of the delay in formally announcing the sanctions they were able to send teams that combined to win 17 medals.

"Coaches and officials who have been on the scene for the past three decades or more are fully aware where the cancer is," said Coffa.

"And it is the countries which have constantly produced positive results. Even though heavy financial sanctions have been imposed and individual lifters have been banned, it has not stopped them.

"As far as I am concerned, they should have been suspended a long time ago. And I am glad the IWF is taking stronger action.

"I believe this is the only way that you can stop countries that have no respect for fair play.

"Their attitude is just disgraceful. They think that they are superior to clean athletes, when in fact the clean athletes look at these dopes with disgust."

Metcalfe agreed that the IWF's country-wide bans are a good step, but said he would like them to be even stiffer.

"Keeping Bulgaria and Russia away from Rio sent the right message, but those other countries will serve their one-year bans now and there will be nothing to stop them from competing in Toyko in four years' time," he said.

"With these countries you are trying to change a culture, so it may take a generation."

But Metcalfe remains optimistic about the future and believes clean weightlifters can win medals.

"We have won 38 medals over the last few years at world, European and Commonwealth age-group and senior competitions, including medals at this year's Europeans for the first time ever," he said, name-checking young talents Rebekah Tiler and Zoe Smith.

"We must keep getting stronger and more technically proficient, work harder and find more individuals with the determination needed, but I'm confident we will win a medal in Tokyo."

KEYWORDS: olympics, rio

 

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