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Exclusive: Can the IWF be clean without Russia? The Russian anti-doping team ran in the IWF elections, but was rejected.

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The Russian Weightlifting Federation (RWF) has received a notification restricting its participation in the IWF elections, to be held in Uzbekistan in December.

The RWF had nominated candidates for positions in the IWF Technical, Coaching&Research and Medical Committees. Maxim Agapitov, World Champion in weightlifting in 1997 and Head of the RWF, claims to be the president of the IWF. Surprisingly the Eligibility Determination Panel (EDP) rejected all candidates from Russia, referring to the new Сonstitution of the organisation. In this interview, Maxim Agapitov (pictured) revealed details of the strategy for protecting candidates in the IWF elections. Will the IWF's decision to cancel the Russians survive in court?

How does the IWF explain their rejection of Russian candidates?

Agapitov: EDP has determined that the Russian team is “provisionally ineligible to stand in the upcoming December 2021 elections''. This decision is unreasonable, breakable and contrary to the real goals of the IWF. Following the new Constitution, the EDP failed to take into account the real anti-doping efforts of national federations. This approach is absolutely unacceptable in relation to Russia. Today, the RWF is the leader in the fight against doping. While some of our colleagues continued to cover-up positive tests, we built an effective anti-doping system. So far, no federation in the world can dispute our results in anti-doping work.  All sanctions against Russian weightlifters have been duly served, fines have been paid. I see no reason whatsoever to exclude us from a full and constructive dialogue. In order to eliminate Russia from the weightlifting strongest powers’ club, much more serious reasons are necessary. EDP's actions contradict the strategic interests of the IWF in the fight against doping. Interestingly, a provision prohibiting any appeal against any EDP decision has somehow appeared in the draft of the IWF Constitution as a last-minute amendment, against the decision of the Constitution Reform Group which I have been a member of. That being said, we decided to challenge this approach in court, as it blatantly violates the imperative provisions of Swiss law.

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Do you doubt the fairness of EDP's actions?

Agapitov: Unfortunately, I have some serious concerns on the real rationale for restricting the rights of Russian candidates to participate in the IWF elections. The EDP notifications were followed by additional sanctions against Russia. In particular, we received an invoice for payment of fines for violations committed in 2011-2015, based on the Moscow Laboratory LIMS data. Exerting additional pressure, the IWF sent an invoice for paying fines for positive tests at national competitions in recent periods, although until recently the Federation had no debts. The independent McLaren Report states that Russia paid fines in cash directly to Tamas Ajan, former IWF president, as other countries did. But this money was gone. Perhaps they should be looked for? It is truly sad, but this situation demonstrates that manipulation tactics in the IWF still go on. IWF officials remind about these - highly questionable - fines on the eve of the elections and World Championship in Uzbekistan. Actually, corruption in sports is becoming an increasingly common activity, and this applies not only to the IWF. Sports organisations really cannot deal with this issue on their own. However, the RWF today is on the right track and giving up is not a part of our plans.

Russia has a very long doping history. Your problems with doping are well known, aren't they?

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Agapitov: When I took power within the RWF in 2016 Russian athletes were totally banned from the Rio Olympics. We had significantly updated the federation and carried out large-scale reforms. Our adult weightlifting athletes’ doping samples taken on an international level have not been turning positive for more than 4 years. All sporting rights of Russian lifters, including the right to compete internationally, have been restored in full. New sanctions? Not for Russia, but for those who are using the power of the IWF and spreading doping around the world. Following the new Constitution, the IWF doesn’t take into account the real anti-doping efforts of national federations. This approach is absolutely unacceptable in relation to Russia. Today, the RWF is the leader in the fight against doping.

What is the main system error of the IWF or EDP in interpreting the Constitution?

Agapitov The paragraph of the Constitution referred to by the EDP is extremely unclear and allows different interpretations. What violations should be taken into account when making a decision? We had a few cases registered at the national level, which only proved our effective anti-doping work in close cooperation with the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA). During this period athletes who had committed violations in previous years (long before the sanctions were imposed), under the previous leadership of the Russian Weightlifting Federation, whose legacy we steadily eradicated, were suspended. When interpreting the Constitution, it’s necessary to proceed from its purpose - to punish federations which do not ensure a proper fight against doping in their countries, what leads to undermining the image of not only the relevant national federation but also weightlifting in general.

What about your nomination for the IWF presidency? Like some other candidates, you were rejected by the Eligibility Determination Panel.

Agapitov: In EDP’s view, the RWF is prohibited from nominating any candidate for election to the Executive Board, IWF Commission or IWF Committee, because of the sanctions being imposed for anti-doping rules’ violations. However, the Constitution does not prohibit directly the nomination of candidates for senior IWF positions, such as President or Vice President. I was nominated for the position of the President and the 1st Vice-President, so this provision shouldn’t apply to me at all.

As a candidate for IWF elections, you have already outlined a strategic anti-doping plan. You advocate serious reform in the IWF, arguing that National Federations shouldn't be held responsible for doping by their athletes, if they really assist in catching cheaters.

Agapitov: Briefly, national federations shouldn't be responsible for violations of anti-doping rules uncovered with their assistance. In general, we propose not to punish national federations for doping violations of athletes committed during an out-of-competition period. Athletes easily get hooked on doping when they are training. They must be stopped before they destroy the national team and damage the clean athletes. This can only be done by national federations in partnership with the IWF. Nevertheless, doping in international competitions should be completely ruled out. The scale of penalties and suspensions must become transparent and clear and all information about the in-competition and out-of-competition tests must be open and publicly accessible. I’m sure that the IWF should be completely renewed. The work must be entrusted to professionals who will be able to motivate the national federations and fight against doping consistently. Our sport is looking for new faces, fresh ideas and modern approaches, including the one related to tackle doping in our beloved sport. Weightlifting must get free from corruption sooner rather than later in order to survive in the modern world.

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Football

Parken Stadium hands Denmark a sporting lifeline

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Although the Parken Stadium isn’t the biggest venue in world football, it’s undoubtedly putting Denmark back on the map from a football standpoint. The European country boasts a healthy sports sector, and football is very much at the heart of the region’s sporting passions. Though Denmark’s profile has somewhat diminished throughout the 2000s and 2010s, particularly in European competitions, the 2020 European Championship hands the country a sporting lifeline. So, let’s look at what this means for future opportunities in Denmark.   

Re-establishing Denmark as football-loving country 

The Parken Stadium is the home to both the Danish national team and FC Copenhagen, and it was chosen as one of 11 stadiums to host matches for Euro 2020. The 38,000-seater ground hosts four games in total, including each Group D match and one Round of 16 match. Denmark made their home advantage count, beating Russia 4-1 to book their place in the knockout phase. Now, as of June 22nd, Kasper Hjulmand’s team is 22/1 in Euro 2020 odds to win the international competition.   

Denmark’s progression from Group D sees them face Robert Page’s Wales in the Round of 16, and the Red and White will be full of confidence after their emphatic victory over Russia on match-day three. Having entered their final group match outside of a qualification spot, Denmark was under pressure to deliver, and they did so in ruthless fashion. In front of their home supporters, the Parken Stadium turned into a festival of love as the Danish national team delivered an unforgettable performance. Not only that, but the passion showed the world the forgotten magic of the Parken Stadium, highlighting why the ground was once a go-to venue for major matches. 

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The beginning of a new era 

Prior to the 2020 European Championships, the Parken Stadium hasn’t hosted a significant non-Danish match since 2000. Over two decades ago, the 38,000-seater ground welcomed Arsenal and Galatasaray for the UEFA Cup final. On that night, the Lions made history by becoming the first Turkish side to win a major European trophy. High-stakes fixtures weren't rare for the Parken Stadium during the 1990s, with the Copenhagen-based venue also hosting the 1994 European Cup Winners’ Cup final between Arsenal and Parma.   

The Parken Stadium’s emergence in Euro 2020 provides a new era for Danish sport, but it’s only the start of long-term development plans. Copenhagen is an epicentre for sustainable sport, and the city has embraced that responsibility with open arms. Aside from pushing the boundaries in a collective desire to host more events, competitions like the European Championships will have long-term benefits for the country. According to SportsPro Media, Denmark’s success will help enhance tourism and local pride in sporting achievements. 

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Looking to the future 

The Parken Stadium has hosted some unforgettable matches, including Denmark’s emphatic must-win triumph over Russia. From a footballing standpoint, that was the venue’s most notable match in over two decades, which speaks volumes about its sudden fall from grace. However, Copenhagen now looks to be back on the footballing map, and it owes that to the Parken Stadium.

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Football

FA condemns racist abuse of players after England's Euro 2020 final loss

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England's Football Association (FA) released a statement in the early hours of Monday morning (12 July) condemning the online racist abuse of players following the team's penalty shootout loss to Italy in the Euro 2020 final on Sunday (11 July), write Philip O'Connor, Shrivathsa Sridhar and Kanishka Singh, Reuters.

The sides drew 1-1 after extra time and Italy won the shootout 3-2, with England players Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, who are all Black, missing spot-kicks.

"The FA strongly condemns all forms of discrimination and is appalled by the online racism that has been aimed at some of our England players on social media," the statement said.

"We could not be clearer that anyone behind such disgusting behaviour is not welcome in following the team. We will do all we can to support the players affected while urging the toughest punishments possible for anyone responsible."

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The England team also released a statement condemning the abuse directed at its players on social media.

"We're disgusted that some of our squad - who have given everything for the shirt this summer - have been subjected to discriminatory abuse online after tonight's game," the team tweeted.

British police said they would investigate the posts.

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"We are aware of a number of offensive and racist social media comments being directed towards footballers following the #Euro2020 final," the Metropolitan Police tweeted.

"This abuse is totally unacceptable, it will not be tolerated and it will be investigated."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the team deserved to be lauded as heroes and not racially abused on social media.

"Those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves," Johnson tweeted.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan called on social media companies to remove such content from their platforms.

"Those responsible for the disgusting online abuse we have seen must be held accountable - and social media companies need to act immediately to remove and prevent this hate," Khan said in a tweet.

Arsenal sent a message of support to their winger Saka while Rashford was backed by his club Manchester United.

"Football can be so cruel. But for your personality ... your character ... your bravery ... We'll always be proud of you. And we can't wait to have you back with us," Arsenal tweeted.

United said they looked forward to welcoming Rashford home, adding: "One kick won't define you as a player or person."

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coronavirus

German minister slams UEFA's decision on fuller stadiums

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German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer speaks during a news conference with head of the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution Thomas Haldenwang in Berlin, Germany June 15, 2021. Michael Sohn/Pool via REUTERS

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer (pictured) called a decision by European soccer's governing body UEFA to allow big crowds at Euro 2020 "utterly irresponsible" especially given the spread of the Delta variant of the coronavirus, writes Emma Thomasson, Reuters.

Seehofer told a news conference that UEFA appeared to have been driven by commercial considerations, which he said should not rank above health concerns.

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He said it was inevitable that a match with 60,000 spectators - the number UEFA will allow at London's Wembley stadium for the Euro 2020 semifinals and final - would promote the spread of COVID-19, especially given the Delta variant.

Nearly 2,000 people who live in Scotland have attended a Euro 2020 event while infectious with COVID-19, officials said on Wednesday. Thousands of Scots came to London for their game against England in the UEFA European Football Championship group stage on June 18. read more

At least 300 Finns who went to cheer on the national team at the Euro 2020 soccer tournament have contracted COVID-19, health officials said on Tuesday (29 June).

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The daily infection rate in Finland has gone up from around 50 a day to more than 200 in the past week, and the figure is likely to grow in the coming days, they said. Read more.

Last week, Russian authorities blamed the new Delta variant for a surge in both new infections and deaths in major cities including St. Petersburg, which is due to host a quarter final today (2 July). Read more.

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