Interview by Masoud Hossein

Exclusive: IWF acting president Papandrea lauds Iranians

April 25, 2020 - 16:38

TEHRAN – International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) acting president Ursula Papandrea says the Iranian women lifters have risen faster than even expected and she is very happy for them.

Papandrea was elected the first-ever female vice president for the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) in May 2017. Now, she is the IWF acting president after Tamas Ajan was forced to step down from active duty.

This resignation comes amid the ongoing investigation of allegations of financial corruption, false drug testing, and subsequent cover-up made against Ajan and the IWF.

The IWF’s Oversight and Integrity Commission, which is chaired by Papandrea, has also been mandated to continue its work until June 19.

In an exclusive interview with Tehran Times, Papandrea, who is also president of the U.S. Weightlifting Federation,  discussed about several issues including rising Iranian female weightlifters.  

Tehran Times: As acting president of IWF, what is your plan until June? You are in a very difficult situation since IWF will have to reschedule the Olympics qualification program, following postponing the Games over coronavirus.   

I am taking the time it has afforded me to rebuild and reform the IWF. I have started the process of moving our IWF headquarters to Lausanne, Switzerland, the official headquarters according to the IWF Constitution and the city of the International Olympic Committee headquarters. I will prepare the IWF to function solely out of Lausanne for the future. It is a huge task. We must also hire key professionals. This is what lay ahead. 

It is a huge misfortune for the athletes and our concern for their safety and our member federations is also a concern for the IWF. We just created a fund for the member federations to request funding for COVID-19 related costs. Iran was the second country affected by the virus after China. I know it has created a hardship on the IRI federation. I hope they will apply for some funding so we can assist in some of the COVID-19 related costs like disinfecting the gyms, masks and like items.  

You’ve recently published a verse from the Holy Quran on your Instagram account which has gone viral. Could you speak a little more in-depth about your post?

We are all under the stresses the virus has caused worldwide. It is hard to remember the blessings when everyday is difficult. I just wanted to share the love of this quote with others, especially many of my friends who are not acquainted with the beautiful text in the Quran. 

You traveled to Iran two years ago for Fajr Weightlifting Cup as head of the U.S. delegation and played a role in the launch of a women’s development program in the West Asian country, where the sport had previously been a men-only sport. Please talk about the program. 

I was in Ahvaz in 2017 for several days where I conducted a women’s training and coaching session as well as attending the Fajr Cup. The program had started about eight months prior and I went to show support and to practically assist as much as possible. I really wanted the women weightlifters to know they have a bright future and that there is worldwide support for them. Since then the women have competed at many competitions beginning with the Asian Junior and Youth Championships in 2017. I have since been able to meet again with several of the women and coaches I met at other international championships including the 2018 world championships.

You said you would help the Iranian women to compete internationally. For the first time, Iran sent a female team to the IWF World Championships in Thailand in last year’s September. Do you see a bright future ahead of the Iranian women weightlifters?

It is my dream for them to compete internationally at all levels and to be able to witness their successes. I know the success of the men and expect that the women will be of commensurate level soon. They have risen faster than even I expected! I am very happy for them. 

 International Olympic Committee (IOC) is dissatisfied with the sport due to financial corruption and false drug testing. Is there any plan to reform the situation?

As I mentioned before, I am moving the IWF offices to Lausanne. But of course many reforms are required to ensure we can remain an Olympic sport. Regarding allegations, as chair of the Oversight and Integrity Commission, which was created by the Executive Board in January as a response to the allegation, we hired the best and most trusted sports investigation firm in the world. We await their report in June. In the meantime the former President resigned. This has opened up the opportunity to truly reform and reorganize. We have already taken several steps in creating note independence in the doping controls by handing over more power to ITA. 

Iran has a long history of victories in weightlifting as the country’s lifters have won so many medals in the Olympics. The country boasts 300 professional weightlifters and it shows that weightlifting is very popular in Iran. Do you think Iran can be a role model in the world?

What the IWF needs is clean athletes on the podiums. I have been very happy to see clean athletes from Iran win many more medals since we have started a more serious anti-doping effort. Of course this should be an encouragement to all weightlifters. 

The world’s strongest powerlifter Siamand Rahman passed away 40 days ago due to a heart attack. The professional sport could be dangerous sometimes. As a highly-qualified coach, have you any advice for the athletes? 

I am aware of his death and send my condolences. I do not know enough about it though to make any comment about it.

General advice for athletes is to retain a healthy lifestyle past their career. It is very difficult with the demands of life, family, and career. I have difficulties myself staying active and I own a gym. But it is important to take care and keep the discipline one has as an athlete and carry that into one’s health and fitness routine.

Leave a Comment

2 + 11 =