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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.

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?


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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