Papandrea vows to grapple with 'toxic culture' in running for IWF presidency
Ursula Papandrea, the former acting president of the International Weightlifting Federation, has entered the race to become the next permanent head of the governing body, vowing to root out the “toxic culture” in the running of the sport.
Papandrea, also the ex-president of USA Weightlifting, served as interim leader of the IWF following the resignation last April of long-standing president Tamas Ajan, only to be controversially ousted herself in October.
Weightlifting’s place in future Olympic Games is under threat as a result of a doping and corruption scandal centred on Ajan.
The IWF has pledged to undergo reform, with elections scheduled for the end of March, but the International Olympic Committee reiterated late last year that the sport could be dropped from the Paris 2024 games if it does not get its house in order.
Papandrea had been leading the calls for reform at the IWF, supporting the work of an oversight and integrity commission, but was removed by the board at a virtual meeting in which she took no part, and replaced as acting president by Intarat Yodbangtoey of Thailand.
He stepped down after a matter of days to be succeeded by the UK’s Mike Irani who is guiding the IWF through to the elections.
In a statement announcing her candidacy, Papandrea said: “When I took over as Acting President of the IWF, I knew some of the vital and necessary changes could not wait until a new permanent President was appointed. What I have discovered is a toxic culture of corruption, self-interest and doping that prioritises maintaining the status quo. The governance of the IWF has tarnished the reputation of our great sport almost beyond repair and its Olympic status remains under threat.
“The current board comprises of members with a catalogue of misdemeanours, sanctions violations and red flags that lacks the genuine will to support the essential changes the organisation needs in order to survive. Only when we remove those who have been complicit in corruption within the organisation can weightlifting restore its integrity and rebuild its status in world sport.”
Papandrea has unveiled a series of pledges, including: establishing a reform commission comprising members recommended by the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations; a strategic plan for cultural change at the IWF and its member federations; an integrity commission to externally vet all board members; the appointment of independent and external members for commissions dealing with ethics, discipline and judicial affairs; and new anti-doping processes oversight conducted independently of the IWF.
Hungarian Ajan stepped down from the IWF after 20 years as president (he was general secretary for the previous 24), and came in for heavy criticism in an independent report commissioned by the federation, produced by Canadian law professor Richard McLaren, and published last June.
It stated that 40 positive doping tests from athletes were covered up and that $10.4 million in IWF income was unaccounted for during his presidency.
Weightlifting's drugs record has long been a bone of contention, but the sport was confirmed in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, delayed until this year, having taken steps including handing over management of its anti-doping programme to the International Testing Agency, in a partnership that has now been extended until 2024.