Egypt’s Ministry of Sports and Youth together with the Egyptian Olympic Committee have taken measures to lift a ban on Egyptian weightlifting that could suspend its participation in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics for doping offences.
The weightlifters had been given a four-year ban after seven doping tests for young weightlifters came out positive in 2016, explained Minister of Sports and Youth Ashraf Sobhi in a press conference. “But all of a sudden, the Egyptian Olympic Committee received a letter saying that Egypt has been banned from participating in all activities of the International Weightlifting Federation for two years although the Egyptian national team is in Thailand together with the Egyptian Weightlifting Federation President Mahmoud Mahgoub to participate in the World Championships which are the most important qualifying event for Tokyo 2020.
“All Egyptian weightlifting players, administrators and coaches were also suspended, while the Egyptian federation was fined $200,000. We knew nothing about the new ban or the fine. We received no official letters stating this and we were surprised to be given such short notice after the players travelled to participate in the World Championship,” explained Sobhi.
Sobhi said that he made a number of calls and contacted a number of officials all over the world to back the case. “I am going to work in a number of directions at the same time. We will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). At the same time, we reached out to some officials at the International Weightlifting Federation together with Hassan Mustafa, head of the International Handball Federation, who has good relations with people at the International Olympic Committee and other officials.”
Sobhi added that the ban came from a disciplinary committee that is independent and not under the authority of the IWF and which itself could be banned. Countries like Egypt, Russia, Bulgaria and China are against the ban and the measures the committee is taking against their weightlifters and this will be discussed at the congress in Thailand.
Sobhi also made it clear that he will back the Egyptian weightlifters like Rio 2016 bronze medallists Mohamed Ehab and Sara Ahmed who are set to be their nation’s strongest medal contenders in Tokyo. “We must support them and assure them that we will do our best to solve the problem so that their preparations for the 2020 Olympics won’t be affected.”
Sobhi said that he will contact the WADA (World Anti-Doping Association) through the NADO (National Anti-Doping Organisation) to make Egypt’s stand clear. “We have prepared all the papers related as the NADO has taken samples from 395 athletes. Only 14 were positive and this has to be put into consideration.”
The Egyptian Olympic Committee issued a statement saying it was surprised with the reopening of the 2016 case by the independent committee that was formed by the international federation in 2018. The Egyptian Weightlifting Federation was found guilty by the committee and got a two-year ban from all IWF international activities.
The ban relates back to 2016 when seven Egyptian players failed doping tests during the 2016 Youth African Championships which was held in Cairo. Egypt lodged an appeal after the seven players’ four-year suspension in 2017, to keep punitive action limited to individuals, but no decision was taken regarding the appeal. “The recent decision by the IWF committee isn’t correct as it is contrary to the rules of not imposing more than one sanction for one act,” the Egyptian Olympic Committee stated.
“Also, it comes more than three years after the act itself, besides the fact that the suspension is now imposed on all players who didn’t commit any mistake, while those who were accused in the 2016 incident were already banned for four years,” the statement added.
Egyptian officials are also trying hard to put the issue on the Congress agenda meeting on 25 and 26 September.
“The committee will also undertake legal procedures, whether through lodging an appeal or through appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sports within the legal 21-day period after the ban announcement,” the statement added.
Sobhi was chosen as a board member at the WADA for 2020 and will attend the meeting to be held in Holland in November.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 September, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.