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Doping Cover-Ups and $10 Million Missing Part of Weightlifting Corruption Inquiry

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By Brian Oliver |

More than $10 million are unaccounted for, 40 doping positives have been covered up, and vote-buying was rampant at the past two electoral congresses of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF).

These were the key findings of an independent investigation into corruption in weightlifting, which was made public today by the Canadian law professor Richard McLaren, who led the investigation.

McLaren was scathing in his criticism of Tamás Ajánand his “autocratic, authoritarian leadership” of the IWF, where he served as general secretary and President for 44 years.

McLaren said at a videolink announcement in Toronto that Aján was “obsessed with control”, and created “a culture of fear” that prevailed even after he was suspended in January.

His strong control over many members of the IWF led to widespread non-co-operation with the investigation, said McLaren, who concluded that “the appetite for members of the IWF to come forward was practically non-existent.”

Vote-buying at elections was carried out by “vote brokers” who paid cash for votes not just for Aján as President, but for his supporters to gain seats on the IWF Executive Board.

The investigation was carried out after the broadcast of a documentary, Lord of the Lifters, on the German state channel ARD in January.

Aján stood aside during the investigation and resigned on April 15, leaving the American Ursula Papandrea to take over as Acting President.

McLaren said his investigators made more than 50 witness interviews, and spoke to many others who had evidence relevant to the investigation.

“Overall I found an organisation that had been subject, for close to half a century, to an autocratic leader who dictated through various control mechanisms everything that occurred within the organisation,” said McLaren.

“This obsession with control created a culture of fear that prevented a vibrant and robust sports administration.

“We found systemic governance failures and corruption at the highest level of the IWF.

“In fact the culture of fear continued even after the resignation of Aján.

“Despite the required co-operation under our terms of reference, only two vice-presidents out of five, excluding the Acting President {Papandrea}, came forward.

“Two out of eight congressionally elected members of the Executive Board and only one of the five Presidents of continental federations came forward.

“One refused when approached.

“Even more surprising was that of the 20 member federation Presidents and/or general secretaries who were contacted by the team, only four responded and only one of those provided information of significant value to the investigation.

“Some members actively attempted to deceive or frustrate the investigation process.

“Only one current athlete spoke with my investigators.”

The key findings of the McLaren Independent Weightlifting Investigation, announced in Toronto in Canada were in relation to the areas of leadership, missing money, doping and vote-buying.

On the area of leadership the report stated that “Aján’s autocratic authoritarian leadership of the IWF resulted in a dysfunctional, ineffective oversight of the organisation by the Executive Board, which had an ill-informed understanding of the organisation.

“This was achieved through various control mechanisms.

“As a consequence, Aján disabled anyone other than himself from understanding the overall affairs of the IWF.”

On the area of missing money the report said: “The foundational control mechanism used by Aján was the tyranny of cash.

“Cash collected, cash withdrawn, and cash unaccounted for, for which Aján was the sole collector.

“The primary sources of this cash were doping fines paid personally to the President and cash withdrawals of large amounts from the IWF’s accounts, usually withdrawn before major competitions or IWF congresses.

“It is absolutely impossible to determine how much of the cash collected or withdrawn was used for legitimate expenses.”

The McLaren Independent Investigation Team has determined that $10.4 million (£8.25 million/ €9.18 million) is unaccounted for.

On the issue of doping the McLaren report said: “Weightlifting has a history of use of performance-enhancing drugs.

“Over 600 lifters in the past decade have tested positive.

“While Aján has impermissibly interfered with the IWF Anti-Doping Commission, the real problem is the culture of doping that exists in the sport.

“The investigation uncovered 40 positive Adverse Analytical Findings hidden in the IWF records.

“This includes gold and silver medallists who have not had their samples dealt with.

“This information has been passed on to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) for further investigation.”

On the issue of vote-buying the report added: “The two most recent Electoral Congresses were rampant with vote buying for the President and senior level positions of the Executive Board, despite monitoring.

“Such actions are a fundamental violation of the sport’s by-laws on Disciplinary and Ethics Procedures.”

The McLaren team cleared Hungary’s National Anti-Doping Organisation (HUNADO), which was drawn into allegations in the German documentary, of any improper conduct.

A statement from WADA said: “The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) acknowledges today’s publication of the findings of the McLaren Independent Weightlifting Investigation into the activities of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) and welcomes the work that has been carried out.

“Since Professor Richard H. McLaren’s investigation was initiated in January, WADA’s independent Intelligence and Investigations Department has provided assistance to the investigators when requested and will continue to do so as required.

“WADA remains in consultation with the McLaren investigators, who have indicated their willingness to provide the Agency with the relevant evidence they have gathered. 

“Once WADA has had the opportunity to review that evidence as well as the report in full, the Agency will consider the next appropriate steps to take.

“As this is an ongoing matter, WADA can make no further comment at this time.”

In a statement regarding the report the IOC said: “We have taken note of Professor McLaren’s appreciation of the full cooperation of the IOC in this investigation, which was commissioned by the IWF itself.

“As acknowledged in the report, the IOC has in the past three years required the IWF to adapt its anti-doping programme. 

“Already in that time, the IOC significantly reduced the athlete quota for weightlifting at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, and only provisionally included weightlifting in the programme of the Olympic Games Paris 2024, subject to ongoing reforms of the anti-doping programmes and culture in the sport.

“Shortly after the media reports in which the allegations against then-IWF President Tamás Aján were made, the IOC Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer started an investigation. 

“On March 3 2020, Aján resigned as an IOC honorary member, a position he held because of his long-time IWF Presidency.

“Following the conclusions of this report, the IOC will continue to support the efforts of the IWF and its Interim President to fundamentally reform its governance and management. 

“Furthermore, the IOC will contact WADA to determine whether there are any doping cases concerning the Olympic Games, and will follow up accordingly.”

Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.

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