Ursula Papandrea, left, wants to bring back weightlifting to the Olympic programme ©USAW

Ursula Papandrea has used a moment from the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) Youth World Championships in Mexico to highlight her "athletes first" message in the build-up to the sport’s most-important elections since the IWF was founded more than 100 years ago.

Papandrea, an American who briefly led the IWF in 2020, said it was "the highest honour" of her position to "celebrate and serve the athletes".

As a candidate for the IWF Presidency, as well as for other roles, Papandrea said: "I hope everyone understands the impact of our actions on the athletes worldwide.

Having spent more than 35 years in weightlifting as an athlete, coach and administrator, Papandrea - general secretary of USA Weightlifting - said: "I will always be a weightlifter first and an athletes' representative."

Her comments came after a gold medal performance by Mia Rhodes in Mexico, on the very day when the Hungarian Tamas Ajan, who controlled the IWF for 44 years, was banned from weightlifting for life for covering up doping cases.

Nicu Vlad, an Olympic champion for Romania in the 1980s and an arch opponent of Papandrea when both sat on the IWF board after the last elections in 2017, was also banned for life.

"The remnants of that culture, supported by decades of corruption and doping, continue to plague the sport," Papandrea had said in a letter to all member federations.

She said the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) concerns were "validated by the past" and it was up to the members to rectify the situation.

The IOC has removed weightlifting from the programme for Los Angeles 2028, and it has constantly voiced its disapproval of the IWF’s governance and has demanded a "change of culture".

Papandrea tried to implement reforms during her time as interim President in 2020 but she never had enough support from the Board, four of whom cannot stand in the elections in Tirana, Albania on June 25 to 26 because of doping issues.

She was replaced as interim President by the discredited Intarat Yodbangtoey, who was the figurehead of weightlifting in Thailand when it had teenage athletes involved in two doping scandals, but Intarat stood down after a day when the IOC voiced its displeasure, and Mike Irani of Britain took over.

Ursula Papandrea, right, wants to create an "extensive anti-doping education programme" for all athletes, coaches and support personnel ©USAW
Ursula Papandrea, right, wants to create an "extensive anti-doping education programme" for all athletes, coaches and support personnel ©USAW

Those changes came after Papandrea had endured months of struggles with several Board members who resisted reform, and she resigned her seat on the Board two days later.

"I introduced critical financial policy changes, proposals for the Athletes Commission and Reform and Governance Commission, and quickly engaged in a mutually supportive and productive relationship with the IOC," Papandrea said of her time as leader of the IWF.

"Our general secretary and I invited all member federations to meet via continental zoom meetings to inform you of events, to listen to your concerns and to open lines of communication.

"In short, during my very short tenure as interim President, I worked to improve the sport in accordance with IOC recommendations."

Since a new Constitution was adopted by the Congress, the IWF has ignored it by failing to inform members when important board meetings take place, failing to make them available on livestream, and failing to record the decisions made, as required.

"We are severely lacking in the implementation of the good governance measures that were accomplished, financial transparency has not been achieved and accountability has not been addressed," Papandrea said.

"We made some progress in anti-doping, but we are witnessing cracks and reversals of the good steps taken.

"In the last few years, as we have heard these IOC calls for change, the IWF has responded too slowly.

"It is time to reverse the damage to the sport’s reputation, time to abide by the Constitution passed by Congress, time to hold leaders accountable, time to be disciplined.

"We must do all of this for our athletes.

"They deserve an Olympic future and we owe them that and more."

The main points of Papandrea’s manifesto, which can be seen here are clean sport, good governance and integrity, development, member empowerment and financial security.

She wants to create an "extensive anti-doping education programme" for all athletes, coaches and support personnel, and on governance, she advocates more inclusivity in decision-making.

"The presentation of weightlifting should be modernised 'to benefit our athletes' and attract better media coverage and more sponsorship," Papandrea said.