Asian Weightlifting Federation President Yousef Al Mana says global body the IWF is failing athletes ©Yousef Al Mana

The man who was beaten in a controversial head-to-head contest for the leadership of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) says the governing body is failing to support athletes, is wasting time and money, and has damaged the sport by not trying to build a better relationship with China.

Yousef Al Mana, President of the Asian Weightlifting Federation and an Executive Board member of the IWF, also believes that a legal challenge against the chaotic management of the IWF elections in June will succeed - which could lead to another Electoral Congress being called.

"They both have a good case because they are talking about fairness," Al Mana said of complaints taken to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) by Maxim Agapitov of Russia and Abdullah Al-Jarmal from Yemen, both of whom want the results from June annulled.

"If CAS follows the procedures and the IWF Constitution they will win - if they do not there is something wrong."

Agapitov and Al-Jarmal have acted separately but both complain of multiple breaches of the IWF Constitution during the electoral congress in Tirana in Albania, where there was no announcement of the voting details for any positions.

Al Mana complained that there had been further constitutional breaches, in particular regarding unelected appointments.

"The International Olympic Committee (IOC) doesn't like us because we are not using our tools in the right way, we are corrupted."

The IOC made a huge cut to weightlifting’s athlete quota for Paris 2024 and has taken the sport off the schedule for Los Angeles 2028, making it clear that a return is not possible unless the IWF overhauls its governance.

"On the Board now there is a lot of procedure that goes against the constitution," Al Mana said.

Yousef Al Mana, left, stood down at the Electoral Congress in Tirana which led to Mohamed Jalood, right, being declared President ©Yousef Al Mana
Yousef Al Mana, left, stood down at the Electoral Congress in Tirana which led to Mohamed Jalood, right, being declared President ©Yousef Al Mana

"We need to respect and follow it, not work for personal interest."

He also highlighted the fact that the same people who sat on the Electoral Commission were on the body that heard delegates' formal complaints.

"Come on, the same people as judge and jury - it's the first time I have seen that," he said.

Al Mana, from Qatar, said he had "felt something was wrong" throughout the Electoral Congress, which was held over two days.

A letter sent to the IWF by disgruntled delegates said the elections had been conducted "in gross violation of the principles of democracy, transparency, accountability and fair play".

The result of the election of general secretary was called wrongly and José Quiñones, from Peru, lost the post that had never been his four days later when a further online vote was held.

It was won by the Italian Antonio Urso, who called the elections "a circus".

There were angry scenes when proceedings in Tirana were halted after Mohamed Jalood apparently withdrew as a Presidential candidate.

The Electoral Commission, which has been widely criticised, ruled that Jalood had not withdrawn, at which point Al Mana stood down and Jalood was declared President without a vote being taken.

Al Mana insists that Jalood, who is from Iraq but stood as an individual, withdrew but he did not make any official complaint at the time "for the sake of unity".

He had not spoken about the situation publicly before giving an interview to insidethegames during the Asian Championships in Bahrain this week.

Al Mana, who held senior roles in law enforcement and internal security and is now vice-chair of one of Qatar's biggest investment banks, is an elected member of Parliament and chair of the Parliamentary Financial and Economic Committee.

Results of the most recent IWF elections are being challenged at the Court of Arbitration for Sport ©Getty Images
Results of the most recent IWF elections are being challenged at the Court of Arbitration for Sport ©Getty Images

He has been involved in weightlifting since 1998, and is first vice-president of the Qatar Olympic Committee, which had three of its senior figures appointed to senior positions on IOC commissions last week.

"We have a good relationship with IOC because Qatar respects the IOC and the regulations," Al Mana said.

"The Qatar Olympic Committee policy is to work hard to help the athlete, and that is what we are doing."

He said the IWF was doing the opposite because too many Board members were working in their own interests rather than focusing on the athletes and development.

Since the elections the IWF Board had met five times; when asked what good moves had been made at those meetings Al Mana said, "Nothing - people travelling business class to talk nonsense."

He estimated that a single meeting would cost the IWF at least $60,000 (£54,000/€62,000) in fees, travel and accommodation costs.

Al Mana also questioned why the IWF needed offices in both Budapest and Lausanne, and said it was paying its salaried leaders too much.

The IWF’s outlay of $1 million-plus (£900,000/€1.02 million) on the McLaren Report - conducted during the global pandemic after allegations of corruption against the long-standing IWF President Tamás Aján and others were aired in a German TV documentary early in 2020 - was excessive, Al Mana said.

"McLaren’s conclusion was 'there needs to be more investigation', so the IWF spent more than $1 million for a report without a result.

"It’s like a doctor saying you are ill, but for medicine you must get it from somebody else… we give you $1million and you don’t give us the medicine.

"We are a not-for-profit organisation supposed to be here to develop the sport, and we are taking money away from the poor federations."

Weightlifting is not on the provisional programme for the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics ©Getty Images
Weightlifting is not on the provisional programme for the Los Angeles 2028 Olympics ©Getty Images

He wants to know where the IWF's money has been spent over the past 10 years, and especially since Aján resigned the Presidency during a corruption scandal in 2020.

"At the Board meeting in Lausanne I asked for three things: due diligence going back 10 years, better governance, and an internal and external audit.

"The IOC wants good governance and due diligence with good people to keep this sport in the Olympic Movement.

"Everyone makes mistakes, that’s life, but when you make a mistake you need to be brave and announce it, not cover it up.

"We are against ourselves. 

"We need to correct what has been done wrong."

Al Mana said that his requests failed: the Board decided that due diligence would be limited to the six months before the elections, and that no audit could take place until the balance sheet for the past year has been completed.

On governance, he said some Board members were in position for far too long.

"If I was President of the IWF my philosophy would be you should not be in the Executive Board in any position for more than eight years.

"Now you can stay eight in one position, eight in another, eight in another - they want to stay for their own personal interest."

Development money was being given out for the wrong reasons and should be spread in smaller payments for those who need it, Al Mana said.

It should not be given directly in cash but in infrastructure, equipment, clothing and coaching assistance.

"Study what they need, send somebody to a country then make the right judgement in the right order."

Yousef Al Mana is first vice-president of the Qatar Olympic Committee ©Yousef Al Mana
Yousef Al Mana is first vice-president of the Qatar Olympic Committee ©Yousef Al Mana

Regional training centres, similar to the Oceania Weightlifting Institute or a Chinese provincial training centre, would be a huge boost to developing the sport, Al Mana said - and costs could be cut by sharing facilities with other sports such as judo and boxing.

He suggested long-term plans to build development centres in the strongest weightlifting nation in Asia’s five zones - west, central, south, south-east and east - and following that pattern in other continents.

"Nobody has seriously thought about this in 40 years," Al Mana said.

"Tamás Aján did ask me 14 or 15 years ago to do something like this in Qatar but when I asked him to write out details of his proposal he did not come back to me.

"Maybe it wasn't in his interest.

"The Chinese example [development programme] is very good to use and to minimise mistakes."

The lack of a Chinese representative at the top of the IWF was "our mistake" said Al Mana, who said the Board had the power to appoint somebody "for the good of the sport" if they were unsuccessful in the elections.

China is by far the most successful nation in weightlifting and has won at least five gold medals at every Olympic Games this century.

"China is 50 per cent of weightlifting more or less," Al Mana said.

"We don't know how to use China's power at the IWF.

"We need to respect this country - if you don't have somebody from China in one of the top three roles [President, general secretary, first vice-president] you are working to half of your capability.

"Marketing, equipment, training camps, coaches - they have the best and we should promote the power of China."

Yousef Al Mana wants weightlifting to pursue closer ties with China ©Getty Images
Yousef Al Mana wants weightlifting to pursue closer ties with China ©Getty Images

The Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, whose turnover in 2021-2022 was $134 billion (£121 billion/€138 billion), is a worldwide partner of the IOC and weightlifting is one of the most important Olympic sports in China but "nobody has asked from IWF about approaching Alibaba," said Al Mana.

He said that China was represented in the Asian Weightlifting Federation and "if somebody from China wanted to be President of AWF I would sacrifice my position".

Al Mana said he learned before the Tirana Congress that some influential Board members were against him "because I would control where they spend the money".

Despite the chaos and controversy at the elections, and his strong views on the IWF’s current leadership and governance, Al Mana has maintained civil, respectful relationships with Jalood and others, as has been clear in Manama this week.

He has not considered making a complaint to CAS himself because, "I love the sport and I want to work for the athlete.

"Without athletes, coaches, technical officials weightlifting is zero, but they are being forgotten, we are not looking after them.

"I had two weeks to make a scandal after the elections - then weightlifting might be out of Paris, not just Los Angeles.

"I have a very promising young athlete born in 2009.

"Just imagine he works hard for years and then nothing, he is out because weightlifting is out of the Olympic Games.

"We need to build a legacy for the teenagers of today."