Weightlifters from Nordic nations want the crowd to be brought closer to the action ©Getty Images

Spectators at weightlifting competitions should be as close to the platform as boxing fans are at ringside, say the latest group of athletes to be given a voice in the way their sport is governed.

"The audience is way, way back from the platform sometimes - they can't feel the energy the way they do at boxing, where you can see the emotion, see more of us as human beings," said Katla Bjork Ketilsdottir, the 21-year-old Icelandic lifter.

Having a commentator as well as an announcer at events is another way to "humanise" the athletes for those following competitions in-person or on a screen, as is better use of social media, said Ketilsdottir.

These ideas and others - including the possibility of staging a "fun" outdoor competition in the snow and ice in Iceland - were raised in a lively first meeting of the Nordic Weightlifting Federation Athletes Commission last weekend, at which Ketilsdottir was elected chair.

Karoliina Lundahl, the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) Executive Board member who chairs the Nordic Federation, believes this new body is only the third Athletes Commission, for a multi-national group, in the sport.

Of the other two, the IWF Athletes' Commission, chaired by Britain's Sarah Davies, talked about modernisation and innovation at a meeting last month, as reported by insidethegames.

The Pan American Weightlifting Federation Athletes Commission, chaired by the Canadian David Samayoa, is also set to join the discussion.

"Sarah brings up a great point about how spectators getting to know the athlete's personality can lead to them becoming more invested in the athletes and the sport," said Samayoa.

The debate on weightlifting's future, and its need to adapt for the 21st century, came to the fore before that IWF athletes' meeting when Zhou Jinqiang, President of the Chinese Weightlifting Association, spoke of his plans to turn this year's World Championships into a "carnival for weightlifting".

Katla Bjork Ketilsdottir wants the crowd to
Katla Bjork Ketilsdottir wants the crowd to "see the emotion, see more of us as human beings" ©IWF

The European Weightlifting Federation (EWF) is planning to create an Athletes Commission, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is keen to see them appointed from national level upwards in all its sports.

Now that athletes have a say in governance, weightlifters are keen to put forward their ideas.

"I don’t think that athletes know better [than those who govern weightlifting] but we live and breathe this sport and maybe we can bring some good ideas to the table," said Ketilsdottir, a 64 kilograms lifter who competed at the IWF World Championships in Uzbekistan last year.

"This should be a collaboration - we need to make our voice heard, to do it together in a good way."

The area in which athletes may hold an advantage over older administrators, she said, was the use of social media to promote the sport and its athletes.

"That’s our strong suit - we have grown up with social media in our lives since childhood," said Ketilsdottir, who works as a teacher.

Others on the Nordic group include a social media specialist from Finland, two engineers, a social worker and two firefighters.

"This group is really amazing - everybody wants to get on and do things, everybody is really motivated," said Ketilsdottir.

No firm decisions were made at the first meeting in Stockholm - made possible by IWF development funding - but the group are so keen that they want to discuss next steps at another meeting this weekend, held virtually.

"Every single one of us agreed that we need to push this back home, that we need to be on the board of our own federations," said Ketilsdottir. 

"That would help us to push further, if athletes can be involved in their own countries."

The group was intent on coming up with ideas that would take the presentation of weightlifting beyond simply "Good lift, no lift, next lift", she said.

The Nordic Weightlifting Federation Athletes Commission met to discuss ways athletes would like to see the sport changed ©NWF
The Nordic Weightlifting Federation Athletes Commission met to discuss ways athletes would like to see the sport changed ©NWF

"We don't want to lose the core values of weightlifting and we would still like the commentator to say things like good lift, no lift, next lift but also to have some interesting statistics and information on the lifters so the audience can get to know them better."

Davies gave an address to the new group before the meeting began, and there was a presentation online from Jean-Marc Exhenry, the IWF's business development specialist who outlined the need for change and new ideas, as he had done three weeks ago at the IWF Congress.

"The athletes are very happy that somebody asked their opinion," said Lundahl.

"I am of the opinion that it's through the athletes that we modernise the sport. 

"We are all very excited.

"As Jean-Marc Exhenry said, there are two sides to the sport - there are the elite athletes who are trying to get to the Olympic Games, and there’s everybody else who’s interested in the sport.

"We discussed competition formats, holding them in different places - such as lifting in the snow - about speeding up competitions and about doing things in the same manner around the world.

"We want to promote our individuals not just as athletes but as people.

"We have our world champions but we want to bring it down to other levels - who are the stars in our own continent, in our own region, in our own country?

"One of the first things the Athletes Commission did was to create an Instagram account - that's the way to go."

The Chinese Weightlifting Association recently signed a deal with TikTok to modernise the sport  ©Getty Images
The Chinese Weightlifting Association recently signed a deal with TikTok to modernise the sport ©Getty Images

The Nordic Weightlifting Federation changed its Constitution to allow for the creation of the Athletes Commission, and to welcome a new member in the Faroe Islands, which joins Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland as a member.

The EWF, along with other continental and regional federations, will need to change its Constitution too in order to give athletes a voice.

The IOC’s view is that "athletes should be well represented at all levels of the sports movement" and it is encouraging International Federations and National federations to create Athletes Commissions of at least five members.

"The IOC’s mission is to place athletes at the heart of the Olympic Movement," it said.

The Nordic Athletes Commission comprises Ketilsdottir and Arni Baldursson from Iceland, Katrine Bruhn and Anders Holm-Nielsen from Denmark, Saara Retulainen and Jesse Nykanen from Finland, Ine Andersson and Kim Tollefsen from Norway, and Paula Rindberg and Klas Ekberg from Sweden.