Weightlifting’s new look set for debut at Paris 2024: A Q&A with IWF’s VP Ursula Papandrea

Rising above a history of corruption, weightlifting to feature trimmed-down event at Paris 2024. Last October the IOC lifted the sport's probationary status to allow it to appear at the LA 2028 Olympics.

IWF weightlifting World Championships Riyadh 2023 (Photo: IWF/Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia)
IWF weightlifting World Championships Riyadh 2023 (Photo: IWF/Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia)

The past few years have been turbulent for the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF). The sport that first appeared at the inaugural modern Olympics was nearly ripped from the programs of the Paris 2024 and Los Angeles 2028 Summer Games after corruption surrounding financial irregularities and doping cover-ups was exposed.

But now, due to dramatic changes in the organization and the sport, a trimmed down version of weightlifting featuring 10 categories and 120 athletes will feature in Paris later this month. Last October the International Olympic Committee (IOC) lifted the sport’s probationary status and agreed that reforms were sufficient to allow weightlifting to appear at the Los Angeles Olympics as well.

The turnaround was quick, and remarkable.

Former United States national champion Ursula Papandrea was named interim president of the IWF in 2020 after the turmoil led to the departure of IWF executives. She took the role of first vice president after an election in 2022 and has been a driving force behind important changes in the IWF.

We asked Papandrea for an update as the Paris 2024 Games approach.

GamesBids: Following the IOC’s decision to keep weightlifting on the LA 2028 program, have any further changes been made (or are any required) to ready the sport for Paris this summer?

Ursula Papandrea: “As one of the few sports present at the inaugural modern Olympic Games in 1896 in Athens, the IWF is thrilled to continue its proud Olympic tradition on the program for LA 2028. This enduring legacy underscores the sport’s significance and continued appeal worldwide.

“Ahead of that, the weightlifting competition at the Olympic Games Paris 2024 will certainly be exciting and our 120 lifters (from 58 nations) in the French capital will be able to show to the world the beauty and universality of our beloved sport. This will no doubt have a significant impact on the landscape of weightlifting in the five continents. Additionally, we continue to strengthen our relationship with the International Testing Agency (ITA) and are working closely with our fully elected Athletes’ Commission to create informative e-learning courses for athletes. We are also facilitating expert-led educational booths for our athletes and coaches ahead of the Games. This will ensure that our weightlifting community is equipped with the right tools and information for a fair and clean competition.

“Through continuous innovation, the IWF is ensuring that weightlifting remains exciting, inclusive, fair and a brilliant spectacle for fans all over the world. We will continue our efforts adding to and building on the significant changes we have already implemented in governance reform. We are equally committed to our offices in Lausanne and their effective operations under our CEO and professional staff.”

GB: What can we look forward to in Paris that we haven’t seen yet?

UP: “There will be several new elements that will make the Olympic Games in Paris a unique and memorable event for weightlifting fans and its global audience. One of the highlights will be the venue, the South Paris Arena, one of the most active exhibition and convention centres in Europe and most visited in France. A major hub for the Games, it is close to iconic landmarks including the Eiffel Tower, Champ de Mars and the beautiful Bois de Boulogne.

“In addition to the fantastic Paris surroundings, various technological advancements will further enhance the fans’ experience, with state-of-the-art broadcast and powerful analytical tools allowing greater insights into the competitions. These innovations will make the viewing experience much more immersive, bringing audiences closer to the action.

“Paris 2024 is also setting a new standard for sustainability, and this focus extends to the weightlifting competition. Our events will take place within an eco-friendly venue and through environmentally-responsible operations. Additionally, efforts to promote public transportation aim to reduce the carbon footprint associated with the Games. This commitment will showcase how major sporting events can be conducted responsibly and how the Olympic Family can contribute toward a greener future.

“The IWF is excited about these developments and we’ve no doubt that the Olympics in Paris will be a spectacular celebration of weightlifting, set against a backdrop of one of the world’s most famous cities.”

GB: What is the IWF doing to remain relevant to today’s youth? There were no Youth Olympic Games in 2022, but what are the prospects for 2026 in Dakar?

UP: “With 120 athletes set to compete at the Olympic Games, we are looking forward to some spectacular moments in an iconic location. This competition is a fantastic opportunity for us to connect with new audiences and showcase our sport to young aspiring weightlifters. The IWF also recognizes the immense popularity of recreational weightlifting and understands the importance of harnessing this enthusiasm to continue the sport’s growth. As more young individuals embrace weightlifting, the Federation has a unique opportunity to implement additional grassroots development opportunities as well as training pathways and coaching support to ensure the sport’s continued appeal.”

“This is something we are actively addressing. Moreover, by maintaining our strict anti-doping policies and actively promoting gender equality across all of our competitions, the IWF guarantees a fair and inclusive environment that can inspire confidence and enthusiasm in young lifters worldwide.”

GB: Do you think the cultural changes made to the organization are working?

UP: “Absolutely. Change cannot happen overnight, but we are seeing excellent progress in changing the culture in some nations where it was desperately needed. We were very happy that the IOC recognized the progress that we are making when they confirmed weightlifting’s place at the Olympic Games LA28.

“In recent years, we introduced a nomination process for the very first IWF Athletes’ Commission, which also included three representatives on the IWF Executive Board. This was a very important step for the IWF as we focus our efforts on good governance principles set out in our new Constitution and ensure that athletes are at the heart of our sport. We encourage all National Federations to consider putting forward athletes that can make a valuable contribution to the future of weightlifting.

“As an indoor sport, we have realized that the deterioration of nature and climate impacts us, and we recognize the urgent need for sport to take action in protecting and enhancing nature. We depend on a healthy environment for training as well as competition, and we are committed to working deeper on this important topic. Therefore, in March this year, we met with representatives of Sporting Giants, our partner in charge of conveying our Sustainability Strategy, to create a roadmap to help ensure our National Federations, organizers of IWF events, and the weightlifting community are united in our approach. After an extensive consultation with all stakeholders, we will present and begin implementing our Sustainability Strategy from October 2025 onwards.”

GB: Are they hitting all levels of the organization? Is there more work to do?

UP: “In the competitive environment of modern sport, constantly listening to our community and adapting our sport is essential. This is why we are committed to providing global leadership for weightlifters in all continents, and there’s always more work to be done to achieve this goal.

“The work we developed in 2023 consolidated the structural reforms necessary to enhance the credibility, reliability, and reputation of our Federation. The creation of the first-ever IWF Refugee Team, the development of a Safety and Integrity Policy, and the unanimous approval of our updated Constitution all demonstrate the weightlifting family’s remarkable sense of unity and cooperation. Moreover, the development of our IWF Strategic Plan (for the period 2024-2032), in collaboration with all stakeholders in the IWF family reinforces our strong will to continue innovating our activities and provides a clear roadmap for the future.”

GB: What changes have you made to events to increase fan appeal and how did they work out?

UP: “One of our most recent innovations to increase fan engagement proved successful during the recent IWF World Youth Championships in Lima, Peru. For the first time ever, we introduced a second platform, reducing competition time by 50% from 10 days to five days. Not only did it make the experience more attractive to spectators in the venue and tuning in around the world, but it also provided a more comfortable environment for the lifters, staff, and officials.

“In the last years, we also seeing more “Street Weightlifting” events around the world. With different competition formats (for example, a mixed team format sees two athletes from the same country compete against other teams outdoors), this provides a unique and exciting atmosphere. This allows us to bring world-class weightlifting competitions to urban environments, city centers, and iconic locations, introducing our sport to more young people around the world and sparking a passion for strength training.”

A senior producer and award-winning journalist covering Olympic bid business as founder of as well as providing freelance support for print and Web publications around the world. Robert Livingstone is a member of the Olympic Journalists Association and the International Society of Olympic Historians.

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