Albania hands two-year ban to lifters over repeated doping cases

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 3, 2018 09:47

Albania hands two-year ban to lifters over repeated doping cases

Story Highlights

  • Briken Calja, who last March claimed three gold medals at the European Senior Weightlifting Championships in Romania, as well as former medal winners Daniel Godelli and Erkand Qerimaj strongly oppose the decision and have warned of undertaking legal action against the executive committee of Albania’s National Olympic Committee

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TIRANA, May 3 – Albania’s National Olympic Committee has handed the country’s lifters a two-year ban from international weightlifting competitions in punishment for repeated cases of athletes testing positive for doping and being stripped of their medals. The decision has angered three Albanian lifters who were supposed to take part at the upcoming Mediterranean Games in Spain’s Tarragona next June.

Briken Calja, who last March claimed three gold medals at the European Senior Weightlifting Championships in Romania, as well as former medal winners Daniel Godelli and Erkand Qerimaj strongly oppose the decision and have warned of undertaking legal action against the executive committee of Albania’s National Olympic Committee.

All three weightlifter have previously tested positive for doping in international competitions, and the National Olympic Committee fears any new doping case could lead to the suspension of Albania’s weightlifting by the world weightlifting body.

In September 2017, the International Weightlifting Federation suspended nine countries, including Russia and China, from competition for one year in a bid to fight rampant doping in the sport.

Stavri Bello, the Secretary General of Albania’s National Olympic Committee, says the two-year ban handed to Albanian weightlifters will serve to discipline athletes over doping.

“The World Weightlifting Federation shows zero tolerance toward the use of doping. That was the reason why the executive board of the Albanian National Olympic Committee decided to suspend Albanian weightlifting by two years as a message even for other sports so that athletes become future models and the medals that come are clean,” says Bello, adding that eleven Albanian lifters have so far tested positive for doping.

The banned lifters say they will undertake legal action against what they call an unfair and discriminative decision that is not handed by the International Weightlifting Federation.

“We will undertake the right steps and protest and sue them because this is violation of human rights. We are not to blame for the federation’s mismanagement. This is an individual sport and everybody is held responsible for their own tests,” lifter Erkand Qerimaj has told reporters.

“The strangest thing is that we have been stripped of the right to participate by the Albanian National Olympic Committee and not the internationals which is a decision not based in any national or international law,” he adds.

This year’s doping scandal hitting the country led to the resignation of the president of Albania’s Weightlifting Federation and Albania losing its right to host the March 2018 Senior European Weightlifting Championships.

The European Senior Weightlifting Championships was initially scheduled to be held in Albania but the European Weightlifting Federation stripped Albania of hosting the championships after Albanian weightlifter Romela Begaj failed a doping test and was stripped of the medals she claimed at the late 2017 IWF World championships in the U.S.

Albanian weightlifters have tested positive for doping eleven times since 2011, marring the reputation of Albania’s traditionally best performing Olympic discipline at international competitions.

In 1972, late Ymer Pampuri set a world record at the Munich Olympic Games for the press at featherweight lifting 127.5 kg, finishing ninth overall following an injury. Pampuri, who died in early 2017 at 73, has since been a world record holder in the clean and press, which later in 1972 was removed from competition due to difficulties in judging proper technique and health concerns.

Ilirjan Suli finished fifth in the men’s middleweight category at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and Romela Begaj was sixth in the women’s lightweight at 2008 Beijing Olympics.

 

Tarragona 2018

While weightlifting has been banned to participate at the upcoming Mediterranean Games in Spain’s Tarragona, Albania will be present at the multisport event with several athletes and is hopeful of bringing home a medal in athletics.

Izmir Smajlaj who in March 2017 was crowned European long jump champion at the Belgrade Indoor Championships is a favorite to win a medal. The 25-year-old jumped 8.08 meters to break his own national record and beat Swedish favorite Michel Torneus, claiming Albania’s first-ever gold medal at a European indoor event.

Middle-distance runner Luiza Gega is also a favorite. The 29-year-old runner previously finished second in the women’s 3000m steeplechase at the European Athletics Championships in Amsterdam ahead of the Rio Olympics and claimed gold in the Women’s 1500 meters in the Baku 2015 European Games.

Gega, who was the only Albanian athlete to directly qualify in the 2016 Rio Olympics, was unlucky in the women’s 3,000m steeplechase due to a last minute injury.

Athletics is emerging as a new success in Albania where weightlifting and wrestling have been the traditional best performing Olympic disciplines, but poor financial support to athletes and improper training infrastructure remain a huge barrier.

The 18th Mediterranean Games will be held in Spain’s Tarragona from June 22 to July 1 in ten days of competition bringing 4,000 athletes from 26 different countries.

Tirana Times
By Tirana Times May 3, 2018 09:47