Qatar's Yousef Al Mana has emerged as the early frontrunner to become the new President of the IWF ©Yousef Al Mana

Yousef Al Mana, President of the Asian Weightlifting Federation (AWF), has declared his intent to take over the leadership of the sport’s global governing body and to make it a "trusted, reliable and modern organisation".

Of the 11 candidates cleared to stand for the Presidency of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) at elections in Albania on June 25 and 26, Al Mana is the first to make any significant public claims about his plans.

He has been in Mexico this week, gathering support for his candidacy from Member Federations and fellow IWF Board members at the IWF Youth World Championships.

In an exclusive interview with insidethegames, Al Mana admitted that it was imperative to "change the perception of the IWF" if weightlifting is to end a period of trouble and uncertainty by building a better relationship with the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

He highlighted the need to make weightlifting a more rewarding career option for athletes, especially financially.

Other campaign points include better marketing and promotion through more commercial partnerships, public and private; "Getting up to speed with the rest of the international sports world" in the way competitions are presented, promoting the sport better in the media, and generally moving away from the doping and governance problems of recent years to take weightlifting into a new future.

"We have lot of work to do, but I’m optimistic about our potential and opportunities," Al Mana told insidethegames.

"We have great athletes with great personalities - both in women’s and men’s weightlifting - and in so many different countries all over the world.

"We have world class athletes from across Asia - China, the Stan states, Qatar - in Oceania, where I see a huge potential for our sport, in Africa with top level athletes in countries like Egypt, and in both Eastern and Western Europe.

"Add that to our stars in the United States and the increasing number of top athletes in South America - Colombia, Peru and others - and clearly it is all there.

"We just need to better at telling the world about it."

Yousef Al Mana, left, has promised to make the IWF a "trusted, reliable and modern organisation" ©Yousef Al Mana
Yousef Al Mana, left, has promised to make the IWF a "trusted, reliable and modern organisation" ©Yousef Al Mana

Al Mana has a strong support base in Asia and has good connections through his work in sport governance, politics and business.

He is in his third term as AWF President and has been on the IWF Board since 2011, when he was first elected as Continental Federation leader.

Biographical information about Al Mana, 66, is scarce on the IWF website - so he elaborated for insidethegames.

"In terms of current business responsibilities, I would highlight my role as first vice-president in Bank of Qatar, which is one of the largest banks for investments in Qatar," he said.

"My role includes being involved in a high level of connections and investment inside and outside the country.

"Another important responsibility, which means a lot to me, is my position as chairman of Al-Danah Medical Company, which was established in 1990 and is one of the leading distributors of medical, pharmaceutical and over-the-counter medical products."

Al Mana is also an elected Member of Parliament in Qatar.

"It has always been important to me to be able to prioritise my international business engagements in addition to responsibilities in the public sector," he said.

"Such diversity adds to one’s understanding of complex situations, including the ones we face in IWF.

"I have been involved in international sport for many years.

"As first vice-president of an ambitious and very well connected National Olympic Committee, as well as through my other various leadership roles in Asian and Qatari sport, I have the experience, network and support needed to lead the IWF.

"In addition to these roles, I am also involved in trading of various franchises covering a wide range of branches and brands.

"So yes, maybe we must look at updating biographical details on the IWF page!"

The 66-year-old Yousef Al Mana is a leading businessman and politician in Qatar ©Yousef Al Mana
The 66-year-old Yousef Al Mana is a leading businessman and politician in Qatar ©Yousef Al Mana

Throughout the 21st century, Asia has been by far the strongest of the IWF’s five Continental Federations in terms of performance on the platform, displacing Europe.

But Europeans have led the IWF, apart from a few months in 2020, for many decades.

"Weightlifting in Asia has gone through a fast and very exciting development in the past 10-15 years," Al Mana told insidethegames.

"It has personally given me great joy and pride to have led the Asian Weightlifting Federation during most of this period.

"I don’t think that the very strong results in recent years is in itself an argument for now electing an IWF President from the Asian continent, but of course the exceptional development of weightlifting in Asia can inspire National Federations in other regions."

Gender equality has been a challenge in parts of Asia, for cultural reasons, and since Iran launched a female weightlifting programme for the first time in 2018 things have not gone well.

Two of Iran’s top female weightlifters recently fled to Europe - and there is still a huge imbalance of male-female athletes in many parts of the Islamic world.

"In terms of women’s weightlifting, too, Asia has gone through a very fast-tracked period of development which has produced strong results in many countries," Al Mana said.

"There are of course variations from one country to another and this is also the case in terms of national culture and traditions.

"We must keep trying to promote and support women’s weightlifting.

"I’m convinced we can do so while still respecting specific cultural differences.

"It is about striking the right balance and I have seen very encouraging results of such an approach in several countries with a general more conservative view.

"Our sport is for everyone, everywhere."

Yousef Al Mana is serving his third term as President of the Asian Weightlifting Federation having been re-elected last year ©AWF
Yousef Al Mana is serving his third term as President of the Asian Weightlifting Federation having been re-elected last year ©AWF

In terms of commercial success and innovation, Al Mana told insidethegames: "For obvious reasons, the IWF has in the past several years been very focused on issues like governance and doping.

"We have to keep making progress there but as we now seem to be vastly improving in these areas, we now need to focus on expanding our sport and making it more inviting and open to both public and private partnerships.

"I don’t think I offend anyone in the IWF when I say that this has simply not been a priority in recent years.

"To set up a Marketing Commission, or any other Commission or Committee, does not make much difference despite the good intentions.

"We need to take action in this area - and we need to do it now.

"The IWF must become an attractive partner for private companies as well as host cities worldwide.

"This requires the involvement of the top leadership of the IWF, starting with the President.

"Should the Member Federations elect me as the new President, I will use my long experience from business and politics, as well as many international networks, to plan and implement a programme aimed at increasing the attractiveness of our sport and dramatically increasing revenues.

"This will be a top priority for me.

"Our athletes have been working hard for many years but they were not given a platform where they could actually make a solid sports career - including financially.

"This has to change and we need to work fast.

"We need to modernise the way we present and promote our sport, so it becomes much more attractive for new partners to join us."

Yousef Al Mana, centre, is committed to making weightlifting just as attractive to athletes as other sports ©Yousef Al Mana
Yousef Al Mana, centre, is committed to making weightlifting just as attractive to athletes as other sports ©Yousef Al Mana

Al Mana claims to have had a good response since he launched his candidature.

"I am in fact very optimistic about the opportunities based on some initial talks and consultations that I have had since I launched my candidature," he told insidethegames.

"We can probably find many good excuses - like the need for focusing a lot of attention and resources on anti-doping work and on modernising our overall governance - but we must be honest and admit that the IWF has simply not been up to speed with the rest of the international sports world when it comes to developing and renewing our competitions.

"When you look at an international weightlifting event today, it looks pretty much the same as it did ten or more years ago.

 "This is obviously a problem because the world is moving fast forward and spectators, media - and also the athletes - today expect a much more dynamic and faster-paced sports presentation.

"We have a lot of work to do here, but I don’t think it will be that difficult to make substantial progress quite quickly.

"We have been too focused on pure technical questions and, probably, have been only discussing with ourselves.

"I want to include a wide range of experts with experience from other sports and from the entertainment world.

"I want to put a group of creative people with different backgrounds in a room and ask them to come up with good - and maybe some crazy - ideas on how to make weightlifting cool and exciting.

"I’m sure we will get fantastic ideas on the table and it will be up to us in the IWF leadership to decide how far and how fast we dare to go.

"Weightlifting is at a crossroads, but just like Walt Disney once said: 'We need to dream, dare and do!'"