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Weightlifting investigation finds doping cover-ups

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DÜSSELDORF, Germany — An investigation into the International Weightlifting Federation has found doping cover-ups and millions of dollars in missing money, lead investigator Richard McLaren said Thursday.

McLaren said 40 positive doping tests were “hidden” in IWF records and that athletes whose cases were delayed or covered up went on to win medals at the world championships and other events. The cases will be referred to the World Anti-Doping Agency.

“We found systematic governance failures and corruption at the highest level of the IWF,” McLaren said.

The International Olympic Committee said it was studying the report “very carefully,” adding that “the content is deeply concerning.”

McLaren said former IWF president Tamas Ajan was “an autocratic leader” who kept the board in the dark about finances and left officials fearing reprisals if they spoke out. Ajan received cash payments on behalf of the IWF as doping fines from national federations or sponsors, the report said, but what happened to some of the money is unclear.

McLaren said $10.4 million was unaccounted for, based on his team’s analysis of cash going in and out of the IWF over several years. Ajan denies any wrongdoing.

The largest fine recorded in the report was $500,000 paid by Azerbaijan. It’s unclear how that payment was made. On one trip to Thailand for a competition and conference, Ajan collected more than $440,000 across 18 cash payments, according to the report.

“Everyone was kept in financial ignorance through the use of hidden bank accounts (and transfers),” McLaren said. “Some cash was accounted for, some was not.”

McLaren said that the investigation found information which law enforcement “might be interested in,” and that he would cooperate with any later investigations. That was echoed by Ajan’s successor at the IWF.

“The activities that have been revealed and the behavior that has occurred in the years past is absolutely unacceptable and possibly criminal,” IWF interim president Ursula Garza Papandrea said.

She added that the IWF will pass on information to law enforcement if it indicates there were “potential crimes.”

McLaren said Ajan “permitted the (federation) elections to be bought by vote brokers” as he kept the presidency and promoted favored officials. Large cash withdrawals were made ahead of federation congresses, McLaren said, adding that voters were bribed and had to take pictures of their ballots to show to brokers.

The 81-year-old Ajan stepped down in April, ending a 20-year reign as president and a total 44 years in federation posts. A month before that he also gave up his honorary membership of the International Olympic Committee.

In a statement to Hungarian state news agency MTI, Ajan said the IWF’s finances were managed in a “lawful” manner with oversight from the board.

“All my life, I’ve abided by the laws, the written and unwritten rules and customs of the sport,” he said.

Ajan accused McLaren’s team of not giving him enough information to respond to the allegations about his conduct.

Ajan was a full IOC member between 2000 and 2010, voting to select Olympic host cities. A previous complaint about IWF finances in 2010 was closed by the IOC.

McLaren’s investigation was sparked in January when German broadcaster ARD reported financial irregularities at the federation and apparent doping cover-ups.

The focus of the investigation was on the period from 2009 through 2019. McLaren said he heard allegations of misconduct dating back as far as the 1980s, but chose to prioritize more recent matters with stronger evidence.

The World Anti-Doping Agency said it welcomed McLaren’s findings.

“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,” it said in a statement.

Some allegations regarding doping misconduct around the 2019 world championships in Thailand and involving athletes from Moldova were passed to the International Testing Agency, which is still investigating.

McLaren, a Canadian law professor, was WADA’s lead investigator for Russian doping and has judged cases at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Weightlifting’s reputation under Ajan had already been hit by dozens of steroid doping cases revealed in retests of samples from the Olympics since 2008.

Since he left office in April, the IWF has begun moving its headquarters from Ajan’s home country of Hungary to the Swiss city of Lausanne, where the International Olympic Committee is based.

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International Weightlifting Federation president steps down while investigation continues

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GENEVA (AP) — The long-time leader of weightlifting’s governing body resigned Wednesday amid an investigation of suspected corruption exposed by a television program.

The International Weightlifting Federation said it “approved the retirement” of the 81-year-old Tamas Aján, its president for the past 20 years and a former International Olympic Committee member.

“We can now begin the work of determining a fresh path towards achieving the full potential of our sport,” IWF acting president Ursula Papandrea said in a statement.

Aján had stepped aside soon after German network ARD broadcast allegations in January implicating him in financial wrongdoing involving Olympic revenues and covering up doping cases.

The Hungarian official denied wrongdoing, but in March resigned his honorary IOC membership “in order to save the Olympic movement from negative rumors.” Aján had been a full member of the IOC for 10 years until 2010.

Weightlifting’s reputation under Aján had already been hit by dozens of steroid doping cases revealed in retests of samples from the Olympics since 2008.

After the ARD broadcast, the interim IWF leadership invited Richard McLaren, lead investigator in the Russian doping scandal, to assess the allegations. That probe is ongoing, the IWF said.

Millions of dollars in the Budapest-based IWF’s share of funding from past Olympics was unaccounted for in Swiss bank accounts controlled by Aján, the program claimed.

ARD also claimed there were irregularities in how samples were collected from lifters, many by Hungary’s national anti-doping agency.

“I offered the best of my life to our beloved sport,” Aján said Wednesday in the IWF statement.

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61 weightlifting doping positives between 2008, 2012 Olympics

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Three more weightlifters failed retests of 2012 Olympic doping samples for steroids, bringing the total number of lifters to test positive from the 2008 and 2012 Olympics to a staggering 61 athletes, according to an Olympic historian.

Romanians Roxana Cocos (women’s 69kg silver medalist) and Razan Martin (men’s 69kg bronze medalist) and Turkey’s Erol Bilgin (eighth in men’s 62kg) had urine samples from 2012 retested and come back positive for metabolites of stanozolol, according to the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF).

That makes 35 total weightlifters who were entered in the 2012 London Games to fail drug tests from that event, according to Olympic historian Bill Mallon, who also counts 26 positives from the 2008 Beijing Games. A total of 34 of those lifters were original medalists, according to Mallon, though the IOC has not announced potential medals stripped for Cocos and Martin.

In the men’s 94kg event alone in London, all three medalists and six of the top seven finishers were disqualified, all for anabolic steroids. Thirteen of the 15 weight classes in London have at least one disqualification, with one clean men’s event and one clean women’s event left.

The IOC reduced the size of the weightlifting competition for the Tokyo Games. The new rules are a way of ensuring the countries most to blame for weightlifting’s predicament pay the heaviest price.

In April 2018, the IWF published new rules which limit countries to one male and one female entry in Tokyo if they have had more than 20 doping cases in the sport since July 2008. That list of countries includes Russia.

The new rules also force athletes to compete in at least six major events in the 18-month Olympic qualifying period. In the past, some lifters have barely competed ahead of the Olympics, leading to suspicions they were avoiding doping tests.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

(h/t @OlympicStatman)

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