We'll beat doping scourge -- weightlifting chief Ajan

Daniel HICKS
International Weightlifting Federation Tamas Ajan has promised to rid the sport of doping

Tamas Ajan has "devoted his life" to clean sport and is a man on a mission -- to rid weightlifting of its doping-scarred history and seal its place back at the heart of the Olympic movement.

"Since 1975 I have been fighting to make weightlifting a clean sport," the president of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) told AFP at the Asian Games in Jakarta.

"I devoted my life against doping," said the highly respected Hungarian sports administrator, who has been secretary general of his country's National Olympic Committee since 1989.

"Naturally, weightlifting is a sensitive sport concerning doping. But every sport, in my opinion, has been dealing with this problem for 50 years."

As IWF president he has a monumental task on his hands.

A whole raft of Olympic champions were stripped of their medals and records, following re-analysis of samples from the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Games.

Nine countries, including Asian powerhouse China, were suspended as a result.

Five of the others -- Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Belarus and Armenia -- have registered more than 130 doping violations in the past 10 years.

"I am sorry to say this," said Ajan, "but some countries' leaderships -- and I won't name the countries -- had their competitors use forbidden substances because for them the result was the most important thing."

Weightlifting is assured of its place at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games but the Ajan has introduced sweeping reforms to prevent it being kicked out of Paris 2024.

"The IOC warning taught us a lesson," Ajan said on the sidelines of the weightlifting competition at the Jakarta International Expo.

"But it was a good lesson. I agree with IOC that only clean sport must be in the programme."

He said that IOC backing for his tough new measures, introduced earlier this year to sanction serial doping offenders, had been crucial in making a cultural change in the sport.

The new rules mean any nation with 20 or more doping violations between 2008 and 2020 will be allowed only one man and one woman at the Tokyo Olympics, while clean countries will be rewarded with more places.

- 'It must be clean' -

"I am an optimist that we will be on the programme for 2024 and 2028," said Ajan, who was made an honorary IOC member in 2010.

"But it must be a clean sport and I am happy the IOC is standing beside us. I devoted my life to clean weightlifting but without some assistance from the IOC I cannot realise this."

The measures seem to be working.

No fewer than 12 world records were broken at an explosive 2014 Asiad in Incheon but in Jakarta there has been only one so far. That pleases the man who warned last month that the sport "would slowly die" if it were dumped from the Olympics.

"I like a fair competition. Like all people, I like to see new Asian Games records and new world records but I respect clean sport much more than I respect world records.

"We will see even the 100 metres sprint world record broken again, but not every year."

Another measure will see all of the sport's weight classes changed after Asian Games which, while upsetting some athletes, is essential to start with a clean slate.

"I hope with clean athletes we will make amazing new world records in the future," said Ajan.

Olympic qualifying now requires individuals to compete six times during the 18-month qualifying period which begins with the World Championships in November, making it impossible for athletes to go missing between Games to avoid testing.

"I understand I upset some people when I told them to leave their products, their steroids, their growth hormones behind," said Ajan who also serves as a council member for the World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA).

"I might lose some good friends, but I would prefer to be remembered as a very fair leader."