Ajan’s IWF reign faces toughest challenge in Bangkok

International Weightlifting Federation President Tamas Ajan of Hungary speaks during a news conference at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games

By Brian Oliver

BANGKOK (Reuters) – International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) president Tamas Ajan faces the biggest threat to his leadership on Monday after more than 40 years in the sport.

The 78-year-old Hungarian has been challenged by six other candidates who have made strong campaign points about weightlifting’s current doping problems, a perceived lack of transparency, and the “need for change”.

“The IWF is currently going through its deepest crisis in its over 100-year history,” said Ali Moradi, the Iranian candidate.

Ajan, who became IWF general secretary in 1976 and was elected its president in 2000, is eyeing his fifth straight presidential election success.

After winning the 2013 vote by defeating Italian Antonio Urso, who may be his strongest challenger again this time, Ajan had said he would not seek another term.

But a lot has changed since then, said the IWF chief who has signed a new three-year broadcast deal that will involve a revamp of the IWF Grand Prix, a series of high-level events staged throughout the year.

“I have submitted my candidature because I want to keep on serving the Federation and weightlifting. I have a lot of ideas and projects that I could and would like to realize,” he said.

In those four years, weightlifting attracted some of its worst publicity since becoming an established part of the Olympic Games in 1920 and its future on the Olympic program is due to be discussed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in September.

Half of the 98 positive results from the IOC-led retesting of samples from the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games were from weightlifters.

Urso, president of the European Weightlifting Federation, is scathing in his criticism of the IWF’s anti-doping efforts and wants the World Anti-doping Agency (WADA) to take over.

The Italian compared Ajan’s longevity in weightlifting to that of former FIFA president Sepp Blatter in football.

“No one man can stay in charge for more than 40 years, whoever he is,” said Urso, who favors a three-term limit for the roles of president and general secretary.

Fellow candidate Nicu Vlad is also unhappy with IWF’s anti-doping measures but the 1984 Olympic gold medalist’s main aim is to restore unity within the IWF.

“There are splits in all parts of the world,” said the Romanian.

Qatar’s Yousef Al-Mana, China’s Ma Wenguang and Filipino Monico Puentevella are also in the fray to try and end Ajan’s lengthy reign.

(Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)