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Did this Georgian giant win the last-ever Olympic weightlifting gold medal?

There can be no actual doubt that the immediate intention of the IOC in making these changes to the Olympic Charter relate entirely to the IWF and the sport of weightlifting. The continued inclusion of weightlifting on the Olympic program for Paris in 2024 and beyond is squarely and singularly dependent on what the IWF chooses to do next.

There can be no doubt as to the seriousness and imminence of the existential threat with which the IWF is now faced, in its capacity as the trustee of a sport which has featured on every single Olympic sports program since the inception of the Modern Games in 1896. That said, there exists no actual precedent for an entire sport being removed from future Olympic Games based on an assessment of the integrity and reputation threats posed by the sport being allowed to share the world’s biggest stage.

Wen-Huei Chen of Team Chinese Taipei competes in Tokyo.

Wen-Huei Chen of Team Chinese Taipei competes in Tokyo.Credit:Chris Graythen

In performing my role as chairman of the IWF’s Reform and Governance Commission, I have been left both staggered and amazed. Numerous reports commissioned by external bodies such as the World Anti-Doping Agency, as well as the IWF itself (the IWF was left with no choice, after the broadcast of a German television documentary) have served to unmask the IWF as an international sports federation governed execrably, with magnificent deviousness and malice.

Under the tyranny of an all-powerful, iron-fisted president seated in power for four decades until April 2020, the IWF bore all the hallmarks of a tin-pot totalitarian regime drunk on its perception of its own immunity from consequence: blatant vote rigging; rampant bribery; the manoeuvring of millions in dirty money through diplomatic backchannels.

WADA’s own investigations uncovered doping techniques so despicable in intent, that one cannot quite think of similar examples in other sports: millions of dollars in bribes, paid to expunge positive doping test results; the conceiving of cheating athletes residing with “clean” doppelgängers for the sole purpose of the latter substituting in for unannounced doping control tests intended to be performed on the former; and corrupted doping control officers, paid off to give advance warnings that the cavalry is in the next valley.

But as much as I have been left staggered by all that and much, much more; I’ve also been left amazed by the resilience and fortitude of the myriad good and decent people involved in the sport and in the best interests of the sport – from every corner of the world. People who collectively perceive that now is the PERFECT opportunity to draw a dirty big line in the sand, so as to delineate between what’s done; and what’s to be done from now on.

I stand amazed and impressed, as to the groundswell of support for permanent and fundamental change, to the ways which weightlifting is governed internationally; how the sport is managed at all levels; and how weightlifters are treated and prioritised – because after all, if the sport is not for the athletes first and foremost, what is the point of the sport in the first place?

It is obvious to me based on the work that I have undertaken over the last year, that there are many people involved in the governance of weightlifting at the international level, who have taken on their roles for entirely the wrong reasons.

It is those individuals, and the cabal of IWF national federation members who they together control, who have the power and who must now choose between permanent regime change where their personal ambitions are extinguished; or a non-Olympic future for this most revered of sports, which essentially is no bright future at all.

I can make a statement no plainer than this: if the IWF’s Congress decides in the coming days to do anything besides wholly embracing the most fundamental of sports governance paradigm shifts seen at the international level, then the Georgian super heavyweight Lasha Talakhadze will likely be the last Olympic champion ever anointed, in the sport of weightlifting.

It would be a diabolical outcome for weightlifting, if in five decades from now Lasha Talakhadze becomes the answer to some obscure trivia question, asked about the former Olympic sport of weightlifting.

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