An Open Letter to USA Weightlifting Members from CEO Matt Sicchio Regarding Masters Weightlifting
by USA Weightlifting
May 3, 2023
Dear USA Weightlifting Member,
I hope this message finds you well! Seven months into my time at USAW, I remain grateful for the privilege of serving this community and our sport. I am writing to share my thoughts directly with you on a core part of the USAW community – our masters members.
I recently made the trip to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania to attend the National Masters Championships. Thank you to the Masters Council for hosting and welcoming me to the event. It was great to meet so many of our members and watch you lift. If you were in Valley Forge and we did not have the opportunity to connect, I look forward to doing so at a future event. In the meantime, it is a good time for me to share some thoughts and reflections about our masters community in response to questions I received in Valley Forge and over my first few months on the job.
The history of weightlifting runs deep in our masters members.
I am a big proponent of honoring – and learning from – history while also charting a path forward with improvement and progression. Our master members have deep, rich stories about the history of our sport that are both inspiring and instructive. I am learning about the different “branches” of our sport that emanate from revered leaders (often coaches) who poured their passion, and often life’s work, into our sport. The masters weightlifting community is thriving today because of those who committed themselves to building and maintaining a dedicated place in the sport for masters athletes through determination and volunteerism. USAW is committed to honoring the legacy of those who came before us and building on that legacy to continue advancing weightlifting – including specifically for our masters members.
The word “community” may be overused elsewhere, but not in masters weightlifting.
At times, the word “community” is used as wishful thinking for some connection that is not actually present. That is not the case in weightlifting. The word “community” is an apt description of what I saw in Valley Forge and what I know many of our masters members seek through their participation in weightlifting. There is a genuine connection between people who for years have trained together, competed against each other, and have a shared experience of testing themselves on the platform to make gains in a sport that has little exposure outside its core participants. I am also impressed with how we welcome “new” athletes who find our sport for the first time after the age of 35 and are accepted as peers. Our masters members represent a true community.
The passion of our masters members is real and respected.
This should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway because I am disappointed to hear a few voices suggest that USAW does not care about masters. This is simply not true. USA Weightlifting is committed to serving all of our members – including our masters members. USAW masters members have unparalleled passion for the sport of weightlifting. For so many of you, weightlifting is not just something you do but is a part of who you are. Age is not a factor in translating the hard work in training to the competition platform. This comes out in virtually every conversation with a masters member. This passion drives and inspires us in the USAW headquarters to do our best to serve you.
USAW has no plans to incorporate the National Masters or Howard Cohen American Masters Championships into our National Championships Week or any other existing USAW meet.
To respond directly to a rumor I have heard in conversations, USAW is not planning to fold the existing masters meets into our other meets. Our masters members are already welcome and encouraged to compete in our North American Open Series events, and they do so enthusiastically! However, we appreciate that in addition to those North American Open Series events, many of our masters members value the opportunity for stand-alone masters competition. We are committed to providing stand-alone masters competition opportunities.
USA Masters Weightlifting and USA Weightlifting are one and the same.
To clarify what I understand is confusing to some, USA Masters Weightlifting is USA Weightlifting. USA Masters Weightlifting (also known as the Masters Council) is a committee of USA Weightlifting. While this committee provides an important voice for masters athletes, it is not a separate organization. It does not have a separate Board of Directors. In fact, the USAW Bylaws make clear that the Masters Council “is strictly advisory and serves at the request of the USAW Board of Directors and Staff.”
The financial elements of Masters events raise significant questions.
While in Valley Forge, I heard feedback from participants at National Masters wanting more clarity and transparency on how masters events are operated financially, including what becomes of revenue from registration, live stream subscriptions, sponsors, and merchandise sales. Our masters members want the financial rewards of national-level masters meets to be invested back into the sport. We will make this happen.
The process for bidding, awarding and hosting of Masters events must change to comply with governance best practices around conflicts of interest and to ensure USA Weightlifting remains in good standing with the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) as the national governing body for weightlifting.
The USOPC, as part of its recertification of USAW as the national governing body of our sport, has given us a deadline of June 4, 2023 to resolve the “disclosure and independent review of contracts involving conflicted members of the Masters Committee.” Fundamental non-profit governance practice suggests that the economic benefits of hosting a weightlifting meet should not flow to individuals who have direct decision-making authority over – and/or real or perceived influence on – the awarding and hosting responsibilities of such meets. These actual and perceived conflicts of interest are especially problematic for national and WSO Championship weightlifting meets, where the financial risks and rewards are potentially significant.
To directly address this risk to USAW’s standing with the USOPC, we are instituting a new Policy on the Bidding, Awarding and Hosting of Weightlifting Competitions Sanctioned by USA Weightlifting. Posted here on our website, the policy generally prohibits Board and committee members from seeking or accepting the right to host and/or operate a National or WSO Championship competition sanctioned by USAW.
The policy also makes clear that “[t]he awarding of host and/or operator responsibilities for all National weightlifting competitions sanctioned, organized, or operated by USAW will be done by USAW staff.” For clarity’s sake, this includes masters-level national competitions (e.g., National Masters), but does not include local competitions (e.g., Howard Cohen American Masters).
This new policy is the right thing to do for our sport and our masters members. It is also necessary to stay in good standing with the USOPC, which is a non-negotiable requirement of USAW.
Registration for competitions affected by the new policy will be managed through BARS and more information will be announced at a later date.
USAW is a global leader in clean sport and we believe our masters community must continue to support, and comply with, the World Anti-Doping Code.
We continue to push the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) and the rest of the weightlifting world to be stronger proponents of clean sport. At all levels of weightlifting, when the platform is clean U.S. athletes shine. We should not tolerate anything less than full compliance with the World Anti-Doping Code standard for our sport. Contrary to some messaging suggesting that these were merely semantic changes, recent governance changes at the international masters level of weightlifting undermine clean sport.
The newly formed International Masters Weightlifting Association (IMWA), an apparent spin-off entity from the IWF, states explicitly in its anti-doping rules that (emphasis added) “it is not a signatory to the World Anti-Doping Code but express [sic] its interest to reinforce anti-doping rules in the true spirit of sport.” This is not good enough.
Those same IMWA anti-doping rules explicitly delegate results management authority to the Hungarian National Anti-Doping Organization (HUNADO). Results management is the review and notification of potential anti-doping rule violations, enforcement of provisional suspensions, assertion of anti-doping rule violations and the proposed consequences, and any related hearing processes. Delegating this massive responsibility for athletes’ rights and due process to HUNADO is also not good enough.
For those who are pushing the narrative that masters athletes in the U.S. should support this IMWA approach, we urge you to reconsider. We are stronger when we stand together for clean sport.
Our sport is stronger because of the tremendous contributions of our masters members. The bright future I see for the sport of weightlifting and USAW as an organization includes an energized and engaged masters population that is unified by our common purpose to serve and grow the sport of weightlifting – for everyone who is inspired to use the barbell.
Matt Sicchio, CEO