Yousef Al Mana from Qatar is running for a third term as AWF President ©ITG

The most important weightlifting elections of 2023 will feature the two men who were involved in the controversial head-to-head contest to become President of sport's governing body last June.

Votes will be cast in Doha on Thursday for all elected positions in the Asian Weightlifting Federation (AWF), whose member nations achieve far more success than all the other continents combined in major competitions.

None of the other continental federations will hold elections in 2023. 

Mohamed Jalood, who took over as President of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) just over six months ago, is in the unusual position of standing for a role in a continental federation too - as the AWF first vice-president.

Yousef Al Mana from Qatar, who left the way clear for Jalood by withdrawing his candidacy during the IWF Electoral Congress in Tirana, Albania, is running for a third term as AWF President.

His only opponent is Mohamed Alharbi, an IWF Executive Board member who has overseen a huge increase in the popularity of weightlifting in Saudi Arabia - including among women, who were not allowed to practise the sport until 2019.

Alharbi, who is also a candidate for general secretary and vice-president, is one of five IWF Board members standing for AWF roles in Doha.

The others are Jalood, Al Mana, Tom Liaw of Singapore and Meco Chang from Chinese Taipei, both standing for the post of vice-president and a Board seat.

While some candidates are unhappy that Jalood is standing, he and Al Mana both spoke of the need for strong leadership and unity within the sport in Doha today.

The two are respectful of each other and remain friends despite the controversy in Albania, where the Electoral Commission ruled that Jalood had not withdrawn his candidacy after Al Mana claimed that he had.

Al Mana, vice-chair of one of his nation’s biggest investment banks and chair of Qatar's Parliamentary Financial and Economic Committee, said Jalood's position at the IWF made him the AWF's "number one asset".

Jalood resigned as general secretary of the AWF in 2017 when he was elected to the same role at the IWF, but he is entitled to stand as first vice-president and said, "I am happy to serve in any position in Asia."

Mohamed Alharbi of Saudi Arabia will be challenging Yousef Al Mana for the post of AWF President ©SAWF
Mohamed Alharbi of Saudi Arabia will be challenging Yousef Al Mana for the post of AWF President ©SAWF

He is from Iraq, lives in Doha and is standing as an individual candidate rather than a representative of the Iraq Weightlifting Federation. 

His wife Olga Solovyeva, from Kazakhstan, is among the 33 candidates vying for 11 seats on the AWF Executive Board.

Among those 33 is the youngest candidate for any role, Eshaq Ebrahim Eshaq from Bahrain.

Eshaq, in his early thirties, oversaw the hosting of a successful Asian Championships at short notice last year and, having staged street weightlifting in Bahrain before, is now working on another innovative invitation event. 

Jalood has advised the AWF to review its Constitution in a way that would make it "matchable" with the IWF, Al Mana said.

That could lead to the creation of an AWF Athletes Commission, among other changes.

"We are working as a team for Asia," Al Mana said.

"Who has the majority of medals? Asia - more than 70per cent. We are strong, we want others to see what we do and build.

"For first vice-president we couldn’t find anyone better than Jalood.

"He was athlete, administrator, coach, general secretary of the IWF and is now President. 

"People know him… he is good at working under pressure, good at solving problems.

"We need the right Constitution to take the sport in the right direction, we need to build something for the future.

"That means forging a closer relationship with National Federations who are not doing enough to educate their athletes, coaches and assistant coaches about doping.

"The critics are fighting each other, looking not for the benefit of the sport but for their own personal benefit.

IWF President Mohamed Jalood, right, is running to be AWF first vice-president ©IWF
IWF President Mohamed Jalood, right, is running to be AWF first vice-president ©IWF

"Back stage in Tirana, and I have not spoken about this before, we discussed the situation in the election (whether Jalood withdrew or not). 

"I said to Jalood, 'You are the right guy now, in this time. If we fight now, there will be a big mess. Your withdrawal was not accepted… to close this situation I withdraw'.

"At the end of the day our interest is the sport of weightlifting."

Al Mana said the AWF's priorities, if he retains the Presidency, will be fairness. 

"Dealing with everyone on the same level whether they have 10 athletes or a million athletes," he continued. 

"Helping the countries that most need help, and working hard to educate our people about what is good and what is bad."

He said that when he was first elected in 2011, the AWF was $35,000 (£29,262/€33,061) in the red, and now it has $300,000 (£250,821/€283,473) in the bank.

An AWF support programme for nations with inadequate resources - sharing the cost of  accommodation and sometimes travel - means they can send teams of six or eight to competitions rather than two or four, he said.

He also said it was important for China, the strongest nation in weightlifting, to be represented and that he supported the candidacy of Meng Bo for a seat on the Board.

The eight candidates for the post of general secretary are the incumbent Boossaba Yodbangtoey and Niwat Limsuknirun both from Thailand, Alharbi, Mustafa Salih Mahdi from Iraq, Sung Yong Choi from South Korea, Hafiz Imran Butt from Pakistan, Shakhrillo Makhmudov from Uzbekistan and Abdullah Al Jarmal from Yemen.

Al Jarmal was strongly critical of proceedings at the IWF elections in Albania and made a complaint to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which he withdrew two weeks ago after long-running negotiations with Jalood, Al Mana and the IWF secretary general Antonio Urso.

These AWF elections will be the first since 2015 because of seemingly endless postponements caused by moving the date and venue of the Asian Games, and the COVID-19 pandemic.