Nick Varbanov says the money is not there for him to lift internationally for Canada ©Nick Varbanov

Nick Varbanov, son of the one of the world's great weightlifters, is planning a return to competition after a break of more than three years but he has not committed to becoming an international lifter for Canada, where he lives.

Varbanov, 23, has won nine national titles for Canada but has never once competed internationally "because I can't afford it".

He said he performed well from 2017 to 2019 and should have competed at two Junior World Championships in Tokyo and Tashkent, and the senior World Championships in Thailand in that time.

"In total I would have to spend close to CAD30,000 (£18,000/$21,900/€20,700) to go," he said.

"They asked me to cover CAD12,000 (£7,200/$8,700/€8,200) of costs when I was 16 years old - which 16-year-old has that money? 

"It's ridiculous.

"Without any support it was hard as a little kid to face reality and be told yes, you’re good enough, but you’re not rich enough."

Varbanov’s father Alex, who runs a gym in Toronto, won many titles for Bulgaria and is one of the all-time top 10 weightlifters based on the Sinclair points system.

Nick Varbanov has been approached "by Latin American countries" to switch nationality, and is eligible for Bulgaria as a dual national.

"The opportunity to be a full-time athlete is not there in Canada," he said.

"Until I’m able to prepare properly I don’t want to think about who I would be competing for."

Canadian weightlifting cannot fall back on the funding enjoyed in other countries ©Getty Images
Canadian weightlifting cannot fall back on the funding enjoyed in other countries ©Getty Images

Support for the sport, or lack of it, from Canada’s funding bodies was a talking point at the IWF World Championships in Bogotá, Colombia last week.

Twelve of Canada's 17-strong team had to pay their own way to compete.

Craig Walker, President of Weightlifting Canada (WCH) said in Bogotá last week, "Look around at the other nations here, those with big teams - how many of them are self-funded? 

"Probably none.

"Places like Thailand and Armenia are going to have a much better infrastructure for weightlifting than us."

Walker is not complaining, though, about a situation caused by doping scandals 40 years ago, which wrecked the sport's image, and a period of "inertia" throughout this century.

WCH is run entirely by volunteers, has no office, no national coach or training centre and its total funding from Sport Canada for its "athlete assistance programme" is CAD154,000 (£92,000/$112,000/€106) - about the same as water skiing and karate, which are non-Olympic sports.

Canadian weightlifters have won two Olympic gold medals since 2008.

"Now we actually have people advocating for us, a better collaboration about the way the sport can go," said Walker, who disputed Varbanov's estimated costs.

Another critic of the set-up in Canada is the World Championship medallist Ciro Ibanez, who moved from Cuba in the 1980s and whose son and daughter, Brayan and Emily, are two of the most promising young weightlifters in Canada.

Brayan Ibanez could switch allegiance from Canada to Spain ©Ciro Ibanez
Brayan Ibanez could switch allegiance from Canada to Spain ©Ciro Ibanez

"They spend a lot of money on testing but nothing on the athletes, that’s the situation," said Ibanez.

"Brayan was tested six times in two months and he’s 16… Emily is 11 and she has been tested.

"There is no youth development programme, there is still the mentality in Canada that weightlifting is a doping sport.

"The Government doesn’t help at all here."

Varbanov, who has never tested positive, said he was tested 12 times in nine months in 2018.

A club lifter tested positive this year, the first in five years, and no national team members have tested positive since 2014.

Walker said, "Weightlifting Canada does not pay for the cost of testing athletes, nor do we determine who gets tested.

"The cost of the Canadian Anti-Doping Programme is paid by the Government of Canada... it has no impact on our budget whatsoever.

"WCH is committed to clean sport."

For the full story on the warped reality of hard-up Canadian weightlifting, visit the Big Read.