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Weightlifting’s Olympic future in doubt as president ousted

Olympics Day 8 - Weightlifting

LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 04: A detailed view of weights is seen competes in the Men’s 94kg Weightlifting final on Day 8 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at ExCeL on August 4, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

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DÜSSELDORF, Germany — The future of weightlifting at the Olympic Games was put in further doubt Wednesday after the governing body’s interim president was ousted and the International Olympic Committee expressed concern.

Interim president Ursula Garza Papandrea told The Associated Press that board members voted to remove her from office Tuesday during a virtual meeting which she did not attend, after she had called the meeting for Wednesday. She said that first vice-president Intarat Yodbangtoey of Thailand was appointed in her place.

Papandrea, a former weightlifter and coach from the United States, questioned the board’s authority to remove her before a full electoral congress. She said board members repeatedly thwarted her attempts to reshape the IWF after an investigation alleged long-running corruption and doping cover-ups.

Papandrea said the IWF was “dysfunctional” and long-serving officials were hostile to reform.

“As soon as I was in a position to make changes, I did,” she said. “These guys, they’ve had decades to write a new constitution, they’ve had decades to reform, and all of a sudden they’re really going to do it now? I’m a little skeptical.”

Leading board members opposed her choices for ethics posts and blocked her plan for a new integrity commission, Papandrea said.

“I’ve got athletes, clean athletes, relying on me to try to make change, but change with this group is just untenable, in my opinion,” she said.

The IOC has previously warned the IWF that weightlifting’s place on the program for the 2024 Paris Olympics could be brought into question if it didn’t reform its management and crack down on doping. Weightlifting was on the program for the first modern Olympics in 1896 and has been part of every edition since 1920.

“The IOC is very worried to learn about the reported decision made by the Board of the International Weightlifting Federation to replace the Acting President, Ms. Ursula Garza Papandrea, the way the decision was taken and the chosen replacement,” the IOC said in a statement. “The IOC enjoyed excellent cooperation with her during her time in office, and is fully supportive of the reforms she has initiated in the IWF. Currently the IOC has not received all the information to fully assess the situation in its entirety.”

The IWF was shaken by the resignation in April of president Tamas Ajan, who had been president for 20 years and general secretary for 24 years before that. Papandrea was appointed to the acting president role in January when Ajan initially took a leave of absence after German broadcaster ARD aired allegations of financial irregularities and doping.

An investigation commissioned by the IWF found in June that 40 positive doping tests had been “hidden in the IWF records” during Ajan’s tenure as president, that $10.4 million was unaccounted for, and that voters were bribed in elections for IWF positions.

Lead investigator Richard McLaren said at the time that law enforcement “might be interested in” some of the alleged wrongdoing, and Papandrea pledged to hand over information about possible criminal offenses.

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