Zhoiu Jinqiang, centre, is hoping to increase "weightlifting categories and quotas" at Olympic Games ©CWA

The figurehead of the world’s most successful weightlifting team has pledged not just to secure the sport’s Olympic future but to work towards recovering the many lost places for athletes at the Olympic Games.

Zhou Jinqiang, who has held senior roles at China’s Sports Ministry and has 22 years experience in the governance and management of five Olympic sports, is a candidate for the Presidency of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) elections this weekend.

Should he win the election in Tirana, Albania, Zhou said his number one priority would be "increasing weightlifting categories and quotas in the Olympic Games back to 14 and 196".

Those were the numbers in Tokyo last year, down from 260 at Rio 2016 - but the categories and athlete quotas for Paris 2024 have been cut by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to 10 and 120.

For Los Angeles 2028 the number is zero, because the IOC has dropped weightlifting from the programme.

The only way back is for the IWF to carry out widespread reforms that amount to a "culture change" for the sport.

"If elected, I will work towards a complete rebuild of weightlifting’s image," Zhou, President of the Chinese Weightlifting Association (CWA), has told delegates in a video message.

"I will lead the IWF into a new era of transparency, efficiency and cleanliness."

Marketing and commercial partnerships would play a key role in Zhou’s plans - as they have done in helping to develop the sport in China.

"As president of the CWA, I have brought booming sponsorships and endorsement deals to the CWA, reaching $5million last year," Zhou said.

His campaign video highlights the CWA’s marketing programme, and its official partnerships with the sportswear giant Anta and the communications company Linkage, which is part of the China Everbright group.

The partnership with Linkage, signed in 2019, has "given the national team a huge marketing boost" and has led to the CWA signing more than 10 sponsorship deals.

Arguably most impressive of all, to those looking in from the outside, is the new National Weightlifting Training Centre in Jiangshan, which is due to open in September.

The huge centre, with a total investment of $226 million (£184 million/€215 million), will feature 60 platforms, high-tech strength and conditioning facilities, an outdoor fitness park, a swimming pool and a hotel with 300 rooms.

Zhou Jinqiang has played a key role in the success of CWA’s marketing programme ©CWA
Zhou Jinqiang has played a key role in the success of CWA’s marketing programme ©CWA

China will welcome elite athletes from other nations - especially youth lifters - for training camps and will pay for their bed and board.

The new centre, on the southeast coast in Zhejiang Province, will meet IWF requirements to host international competitions.

China’s weightlifters had won five gold medals at five straight Olympic Games before Tokyo last year, where it did even better with a record haul of seven golds, despite sending only eight athletes, its smallest Olympic team this century.

"From elementary school through junior sports camps to the national team, China has a pipeline for realising the potential of the most promising talents," Zhou said.

China has been innovative too, hosting competitions in shopping centres "in order to bring people closer to the sport… we strive to make weightlifting a household activity in China".

On doping, Zhou said: "Under my leadership, CWA has established long-term anti-doping governance systems.

"There have been zero positive doping cases in Chinese weightlifting for three years."

Doping in sport is now a criminal offence in China.

Zhou highlighted his "vision, dedication and perseverance" and said he planned to "restructure and reinvigorate the IWF" in six ways.

They are: new governance, competition reform (to attract a wider range of audiences through TV broadcasting and social media presence), putting athletes first (more opportunities to build long and healthy careers), anti-doping, marketing and sport development.

The absence of a Chinese presence in the IWF leadership has long been a talking point within the sport.

China has never had a candidate for the Presidency before, and despite its status as the powerhouse of weightlifting, it does not have a seat on the current IWF Executive Board, or even its technical, medical, or coaching and research committees.

Zhou sits on the Board of the International Judo Federation and is an independent director of the International Boxing Association.

He has also worked in wrestling and taekwondo.