January 2 - Bulgaria's weightlifting federation has been stripped of its licence by the Government for financial mismanagement and a major doping scandal that saw the country's best athletes banned, the country's Sports Ministry said.

The Ministry said it had refused to renew the federation's licence because it had "breached the anti-doping regulations and sports ethics ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games and marred Bulgaria's sports prestige."

The federation was also accused of mismanaging funds.

Ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, all eight men and three women on Bulgaria's preliminary weightlifting squad had tested positive for the anabolic steroid metandienon.

The lifters denied any wrongdoing but the Bulgarian weightlifting federation was forced, for the first time in its history, to pull the whole team from the Games.

Weightlifting is Bulgaria's second most successful Olympic sport - behind wrestling - and they have won 36 medals, including 12 golds, since the first claimed at Rome in 1960.

The last gold medal was won by Milen Dobrev, who clinched victory in the men's middle heavyweight division at Athens in 2004.

The International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) then banned two of the athletes, Georgy Markov and 2000 Olympic silver medallist Alan Tsagaev (pictured), for life while the other nine received four-year bans.

The federation was also fined $465,000 dollars (£287,000).

But failure to find well-trained athletes to replace the banned ones has prevented Bulgaria from appearing in major weightlifting competitions ever since.

Twenty three weightlifting clubs from around the country have formed an alternative Bulgarian national weightlifting federation, adding they would apply for a licence from the Sports Ministry and the IWF.