By Brian Oliver
LONDON (Reuters) - Tamas Ajan will stand aside as president of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) for 90 days pending investigations into allegations of corruption, the governing body said in a statement on Wednesday.
American Ursula Papandrea, president of USA Weightlifting, becomes the IWF’s acting president until April, when Ajan hopes to return.
Ajan, 81, has been at the sport’s governing body since 1976, serving 24 years as general secretary and 20 as president.
The decision for Ajan to stand aside was made at an extraordinary meeting of the IWF executive board in Doha, Qatar that lasted 13 hours.
Hungary's Ajan had been criticised by members of the board after a recent documentary, made by the German state broadcaster ARD, included allegations of corruption in the sport over many years.
The IWF denied the allegations and Ajan said the documentary, which focused on him and was titled Secret Doping – The Lord of the Lifters, had “ruined my life and 50 years of my work”.
The IWF said it has set up a new commission to recommend independent experts who will investigate claims of financial impropriety, and corruption in anti-doping procedures, which were raised in the documentary.
Ajan said in an IWF statement released on Wednesday that the ARD allegations were unfounded.
“They are not supported by the relevant documentation or by people involved in the relevant decisions," he said.
“Consequently, I have no doubt that external experts will vindicate my commitment of nearly 50 years to develop the sport of weightlifting.
“Weightlifting has always been bigger than one man, and I am happy to have Ursula acting by my side me in a presidential capacity.”
Papandrea was one of the board members who suggested in the days before the meeting that the IWF needed new leadership.
Weightlifting has had problems with doping for decades, and recently overhauled its anti-doping programme.
Its place in the Olympic Games was questioned when Bulgaria’s weightlifting team was sent home from the Seoul 1988 Games because of doping. Bulgaria was also sent home in disgrace from Sydney 2000 and was banned from Rio de Janeiro 2016, as was Russia.
The IOC’s retests of stored samples from the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Games have so far produced 60 positives by weightlifters, by far the most of all Olympic sports.
In the latest World Anti-Doping Agency figures, for 2018, weightlifting had 205 doping violations, which amounted to 1.5% of all samples taken -- the joint highest detection rate, with boxing, of all Olympic sports.
Ajan pointed out after the ARD documentary was broadcast that the IWF had made sweeping changes since 2017 -- it put anti-doping procedures into the hands of the International Testing Agency, and compelled lifters to undergo far more testing than before during Olympic qualifying.
It also applied tougher sanctions, banning nine nations for a year in 2017 and excluding Thailand and Egypt from the Tokyo 2020 Games because of multiple doping violations.
The IOC restored weightlifting’s permanent status on the Games schedule last May, when International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach said his organisation would continue to monitor developments within the IWF.
The IOC said in a statement on Jan. 6, the day after the broadcast, that allegations in the TV documentary were “very serious and worrying”.
(Editing by Toby Davis)