SPORTS

Weightlifting needs new era

DOHA, Qatar (AFP) – The sport of weightlifting begins the troublesome task of burying its dope-tainted past and taking a confident leap into a new era when the Centennial World Championships get under way here in the Qatari capital tomorrow. The International Weightlifting Federation (IWF), launched in 1905, has struggled to cope with the menace of drugs, with cases of doping surfacing at virtually every recent major event, calling into question the very integrity of the sport. The latest World Championships, in which about 70 countries are taking part, will be also held under the cloud of Turkey’s preliminary suspension, robbing the event of one of weightlifting’s most colorful characters, at the same time driving home a strong anti-doping message. «Little dynamo» Halil Mutlu, the three-time Olympic and five-time world champion, has been listed as an «official» in the invitees’ list after testing positive for higher-than-normal levels of testosterone at the European Championships in Sofia in April. It’s another matter, however, that even the Turkish Weightlifting Federation (TWF) has been placed under suspension until the World Championships for a series of breaches in the course of unannounced out-of-competition controls. Mutlu, however, insisted he never took any banned substance after his positive test caused large-scale indignation in Turkey, where he is treated like a sporting god. «I swear that I never used such a substance in my life,» a tearful Mutlu said after his positive test was announced in May. «I’m not stupid… I know that in every tournament I will undergo a doping test because I always come first. I am very upset. Although this happened beyond my control, I apologize.» Mutlu’s, and Turkey’s case as a whole, will be discussed at the IWF’s executive meeting to be held in Doha on Sunday during the course of the World Championships and, depending on the hearing, further sanctions could be imposed on the champion and the country where the sport enjoys passionate support. Mutlu could face a two-year ban if it is proved his high testosterone levels were the result of a deliberate plan to boost his performances, and IWF President Tamas Ajan has driven home a strong message that doping will not be tolerated in the sport. «Let me make it clear that the IWF doesn’t respect anyone who takes performance-enhancing drugs, even if he is a great champion,» Ajan said. «It’s particularly distressing for me that Mutlu won’t be a part of the Centennial World Championships because I was the one who presented him his gold medal at the Athens Olympics. But we have to follow rules which are pretty clear,» he added. Mutlu, meaning «happy» in Turkish, was born Huben Hubenov in Bulgaria, before defecting to Turkey and adopting a new name. Winning titles and setting records became a habit with the 1.5m superstar ever since he arrived in Turkey as a 16-year-old and, despite intermittent periods of inaction due to injuries, Mutlu has conjured up title after title, once famously saying, «Gold is something you can never have enough of.» Mutlu’s absence as a competitor would bring hope to a host of aspirants, mostly from Eastern European nations and China. The latter hope to dominate the competition, especially in the lighter weight categories.