The International Weightlifting Federation says it was unable to exclude North Korea from Paris 2024 qualifying, but has issued an ultimatum over anti-doping testing ©Getty Images

The International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) has reacted to the widespread anger over North Korea’s presence in qualifying for Paris 2024 by saying it was unable to exclude them, and issuing an ultimatum over anti-doping testing.

Effectively, the IWF is telling North Korea that if it does not co-operate with "proper monitoring and testing" of its athletes between now and the Olympic Games in August 2024, its presence in Paris will come under review.

A day after insidethegames highlighted the level of anger among athletes, coaches and federation officials about North Korea’s "unfair and plain wrong" return to the platform for the first time since 2019, the IWF issued a statement explaining why it had happened.

Paul Coffa, an IWF Hall of Fame coach from Australia, described the presence of North Korea at the IWF Grand Prix in Cuba next month as "the biggest bull**** of the century" and said he was prepared to go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport to try to stop them competing.

Coffa, the Olympic champion Maude Charron from Canada, and USA Weightlifting chief executive Matt Sicchio all questioned the presence of athletes who have not been tested or monitored by anti-doping agencies since December 2019, while other athletes have been subject to strict testing programmes and whereabouts rules.

North Koreans have not been tested out of competition in that time and that situation will persist at least to the end of 2023, said the International Testing Agency (ITA), which carries out all anti-doping procedures for the IWF.

"I would urge every country to write to the IWF and their National Olympic Committees to stop this," said Coffa, who called the situation "a catastrophe."

In response, the IWF said it understood the adverse reaction within the sport, and explained why the situation was beyond its control.

Paul Coffa has described North Korea's ability to compete in Paris 2024 weightlifting qualifying as
Paul Coffa has described North Korea's ability to compete in Paris 2024 weightlifting qualifying as "a catastrophe" ©Getty Images

"As an International Federation determined to eradicate doping and deliver a fair and clean sport, we fully understand the strength of feeling on this matter and recognise the legitimate concerns of those speaking out," the IWF said in a statement issued today.

"We would like to remind people of the steps the IWF has taken after receiving entries (in early March) for PRK (North Korea) athletes to compete in the IWF Grand Prix in Cuba.

"We immediately consulted the ITA, the IWF’s partner, independently responsible for all the federation’s anti-doping activities, and our legal team.

"We were made aware that the current rules do not allow the IWF to suspend athletes for the failure of their national authorities and their National Anti-Doping Organisation (NADO) to implement a proper framework allowing independent unannounced testing on their territory.

"Moreover, the establishment of a compliant anti-doping programme in PRK, including granting access to international Doping Control Officers is not within the realm of the IWF’s control.

"That is why the IWF had no legal grounds to not accept entries of PRK athletes to its upcoming event."

The PRK Weightlifting Federation complied with the rules by providing whereabouts information for its team of 14 for three months - although the information was of no use to testing authorities because they could not gain entry to North Korea.

North Korean athletes are set to compete at next month's IWF Grand Prix in Cuba, a qualifier for Paris 2024 ©Brian Oliver
North Korean athletes are set to compete at next month's IWF Grand Prix in Cuba, a qualifier for Paris 2024 ©Brian Oliver

New rules due to come into effect from January 1 next year - the date recommended by the ITA - will make it "an improved level playing field for all participating lifters", the IWF said, thereby acknowledging that is not the case now.

The rules "will establish a new system of categorising National Member Federations based on their doping ‘risk’ and will require minimum levels of testing for athletes competing in IWF events.

"In the immediate term, the IWF will use the opportunity of the IWF Grand Prix in Cuba to meet with PRK officials and inform them of the seriousness of the situation.

"At the same time, the IWF will ask for the co-operation of PRK authorities to facilitate the access of independent testing teams in their country.

"The IWF notes that the PRK’s NADO has been declared non-compliant by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA, since October 2021).

"While the decision of non-compliance does not restrict PRK athletes from competing in sports competitions, nor does it mandate any testing requirement, the IWF will work hand in hand with WADA and the ITA to ensure proper monitoring and testing of PRK athletes, in particular in the lead-up to the 2024 Olympic Games.

"If the IWF considers that the level of co-operation of PRK authorities is preventing the correct assessment and testing of their athletes, the participation of a PRK team at the Games will naturally be re-evaluated by the IWF."