Pyrros Dimas, who is standing for the standing for the IWF Presidency, has backed the Fiji-Samoa letter ©Getty Images

Leading candidates for the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) Presidency from the United States, China and Greece have endorsed a call to move the IWF’s elections to online-only.

Strong complaints about the "unfair" elections are made in a five-page submission from the national weightlifting federations of Samoa and Fiji, whose delegates cannot travel to the planned hybrid electoral Congress scheduled for March 26 and 27 in Istanbul.

They want the elections to be held virtually, with no delegates attending in person.

The IWF Interim President, Mike Irani, is among those candidates who will be affected by travel restrictions.

There are no flights to Turkey from Britain, Brazil, South Africa and Denmark.

Any passengers from those countries must be quarantined for two weeks, as must any travellers who have been in those countries within 10 days of their arrival in Turkey.

A bigger problem is restrictions imposed by other nations, who forbid or discourage their citizens from travelling to Turkey and other countries.

The Samoa-Fiji letter has gained support from Pyrros Dimas of Greece, a triple Olympic champion who sits on the IWF Executive Board.

A separate document sent to the IWF is signed by Dimas, China's Zhou Jinqiang and the American Ursula Papandrea, who was removed as IWF Interim President last October while trying to reform the way weightlifting is governed.

All three are standing for the IWF Presidency.

Germany’s Florian Sperl and Britain’s Ashley Metcalfe have joined them in complaining of a lack of transparency from the IWF - most notably involving Interim President Irani - and questioning the validity of the process by which candidates are vetted.

The original five-page letter is signed by Jerry Wallwork and Della Shaw-Elder, respectively presidents of the Samoa and Fiji weightlifting bodies.

Della Shaw-Elder is standing for vice-president, but due to travel restrictions will not be able to attend an in-person Congress in Turkey ©Weightlifting Fiji
Della Shaw-Elder is standing for vice-president, but due to travel restrictions will not be able to attend an in-person Congress in Turkey ©Weightlifting Fiji

It sets out why the the IWF’s plans are "unfair" to candidates who cannot fly to Istanbul because of travel restrictions or who are unwilling to do so because of concerns over COVID-19.

"At the heart of everything that we do is Fair Play," says the letter.

"The IWF is responsible for providing Fair Play in this instance by giving an equal opportunity to all Member Federations, delegates and candidates.

"Those who will be present in person will have an undue and unfair advantage over those of us who cannot be there due to Covid-19.

"How will IWF ensure that all delegates and candidates attending in person have zero ability to campaign and/or influence any delegate/candidate while in Istanbul, as this will not be afforded those attending virtually?"

Wallwork and Shaw-Elder pointed out that at the last IWF elections in Thailand in 2017 "we observed how the voting delegates were subject to unacceptable and intense pressure on how and who to vote for".

They said a virtual Congress would provide "a fairer, transparent, more equitable and inclusive approach with less opportunity for illegal and unethical motivation".

It would also be far less costly for the IWF, member federations and individual candidates, and would involve no exposure to coronavirus-related health and safety risks.

Wallwork and Shaw-Elder are both standing for the Executive Board, and Shaw-Elder is also a candidate for vice-president.

They said candidates from the Pacific "cannot travel to Istanbul from the Pacific, even if we wanted to.

"Our Governments will not allow us to travel for unessential activities such as this, and it would also be a derogation of our responsibilities to our families.

"The online Virtual Congress is achievable in every aspect, and there is no reason to postpone a Congress in case the pandemic situation does not improve."

They sent evidence of a number of virtual meetings and congresses held by, among others, "the International Olympic Committee (IOC), World Rugby, World Triathlon, International Sailing, International Swimming, Oceania National Olympic Committees and AIBA (boxing) which has more Member Federations (203) than the IWF".

Samoa Weightlifting Federation President Jerry Wallwork, left, signed the letter ©Samoa Weightlifting Federation
Samoa Weightlifting Federation President Jerry Wallwork, left, signed the letter ©Samoa Weightlifting Federation

AIBA held a successful remote Congress that included elections and modification of the Constitution, they said.

The other candidates' endorsement letter also raises concerns regarding the lack of disclosure to all candidates of Irani’s "association with Sport Resolutions as a member of one of their Appeals Tribunals".

Sport Resolutions, a specialist dispute-resolution company based in Britain, is overseeing the candidate eligibility checks "entirely independently of the IWF" according to the governing body’s website.

Irani has worked for Sport Resolutions on its national anti-doping panel.

Asked about this situation, Sport Resolutions' communications manager Duygu Yetkincan said, "We confirm that neither Dr Irani, nor any individuals who have worked with him, will be considered for appointment to the Eligibility Determination Panel (EDP).

"Prior to appointment, EDP members will have to complete a declaration of independence and keep that position under review throughout the process.

"Once appointed, the composition of the EDP will be published on our website for full transparency."

The letter further questions the lack of an appeals process for any candidates ruled ineligible, and the lack of time between notifying candidates of their eligibility and the election - a maximum of 11 days.

All signatories also requested "in the spirit of transparency and fair play" that a full list of eligible voting delegates, their positions within a National Federation, and contact emails should be circulated to all candidates.

The IOC has repeatedly criticised the IWF for poor governance over the past five months, and will discuss the sport’s Olympic future tomorrow at an Executive Board meeting.