History of the European Weightlifting Federation By Gottfried Schödl / EWF Honorary President
This story doesn’t deal with the origin of weightlifting in Europe which, in fact, goes back many decades more than just the Federation’s history. It is the story of the significance of Europe in the international weightlifting which finally – late but anyway – led to the foundation of its own continental federation.
Interesting facts and some, perhaps already forgotten, peculiarities come in memory. The first of these happened in the last quarter of the 19th Century. Weightlifting in Europe was searching for and, after a prolonged run-up, finally found an identity. Something new is born always where progress has gone farthest. Although debates about exercises, rules and equipment continued for several decades, it was just in this thick atmosphere of a diversity of opinions that weightlifting in Europe developed into a success story.
No matter how Europe’s historical role in the development of international weightlifting is universally interpreted, it was this continent which, at the turn from the 19th to the 20th Century, created all the significant elements of a successful development enabling weightlifting to become what it is today: a modern and globally acknowledged sport. This fact is, although reluctantly, concede by the rest of the continents as well. The first International Federations and the first national Weightlifting Associations were established in European countries. The first Continental Championships ever held were the European Championships on 9th March 1896, in Rotterdam, Holland. Upon its entry into the 20th Century, weightlifting within the boundaries of Europe was able to look back on a rich, almost 25-year long, tradition of national and international competitions. Since its foundation in 1905 until the First World War, the following nations belonged in alphabetical order to the International Weightlifting Federation: Austria, Belgium, Bohemia, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland and Sweden. If we want to assess it correctly: it was an International Federation of European countries. No sooner than in the twenties and the thirties, when ( thanks to the effort of European officials ( weightlifting was again admitted to the Olympic Games program, did non-European countries join the International Federation: Egypt, Argentina, Canada, USA, Brazil, China, India, Cuba and Japan in this chronological order. Yet, just like before, nearly all activities ( including participation in the Olympic Games ( concentrated in countries of Europe. If we would give a close study to the list of participants of Olympic Games from 1920 to 1932, we shall see this statement confirmed.
To this phenomenon, the World Federation, called at that time “Fédération Internationale Haltérophile”, reacted in a strange and still hardly comprehensible manner and refused for thirteen long years (!) to organise World Championships. There existed, however, the fully active European countries and something had to be done in their favour. A solution was obvious and so during the period from 1929 to 1935, with the exception of the Olympic year 1932, six European Championships figured on the official calendar of the International Federation by the way in charge of weightlifting in the whole world. And what made these events even more bizarre was a decision that countries outside Europe may also participate ( with the permission of the International Federation. Egypt was the only one to benefit from this privilege and managed to pocket, in the years 1930 and 1931, four gold and two bronze European medals. Egypt might probably have continued to enrich the European statistics in the years to follow had there not been the unanimous approval of a motion by Czechoslovakia at the Olympic FIH-Congress 1932 in Los Angeles:
“…to renounce the participation of athletes from outside the continent at European Championships…”
Almost half a century, including World War Two, had to pass before the term “Continental Federations” was finally included in the vocabulary of the World Federation. At the Olympic Congress 1948 in London, it was to be thanked to the American Dietrich Wortmann, Vice President of the World Federation since 1932, that the possibility of establishing Continental Federations was discussed for the first time. His proposal enjoying the support of delegates from 22 countries and waiting for further elaboration at the following meetings read:
“There should be a representative in each continent who would be officially responsible for holding all international meetings in that continent, supervising any international matters in his own district, and sending in reports and records to the Fédération Internationale Haltérophile.”
Three years after this proposal, in 1951, the Pan American Weightlifting Confederation was founded, followed in 1958 by the establishment of the Asian Weightlifting Federation. Although two examples for continental federations already existed and the advantages of such conglomerations were obvious, the European members of the World Federation brushed aside the idea of forming their own institution. While Pan America and Asia allocated and regulated their championships on their own, European interests remained with the authority of the International Federation and were often – in many ways – influenced in the wrong direction by non-European officials. It was only a question of time to escape from this guardianship.
Yet another decade passed before Europe finally woke up: we were already writing 1968. Twenty-three years had gone since the end of World War Two. During that period, 19 European Championships had taken place, 12 of them in conjunction with World Championships organised on European soil. Keeping their intentions top secret before the leading International Federation officials, a working group comprising, among others, Tamás Aján (HUN), Helmut Atzrodt (GDR), Stanislaw Zgondek (POL) and Asen Stoev (BUL), began to prepare the founding of the European Federation on the occasion of the 1969 combined World and European Championships in Warsaw. Secrecy was essential since the top management of the International Federation took an absolutely negative approach to this idea. In the spring of 1969, a letter was sent to the European nations of the World Federation requesting their support to the institution of a European Federation. The letter was signed by Jean Dame (FRA), Konstantin Artemyev (URS), Janusz Przedpelski (POL), Gottfried Schödl (AUT), Dr. Juan Francisco Marcos Becerro (ESP), Tamás Aján (HUN), Yngve Frölander (SWE), Dr. Gerhard Carl (GDR) and Pekka Kare (FIN).
The Day came on 20th September, 1969. In the presence of delegates from 19 countries, the initiative was realised and the European Weightlifting Federation was founded by unanimous decision. Unanimity prevailed also in the election of officials. The first EWF leadership consisted of the following officials: Honorary President: Jean Dame (FRA). President: Janusz Przedpelski (POL). General Secretary: Helmut Atzrodt (GDR). Vice Presidents: Gottfried Schödl (AUT), Tamás Aján (HUN), Alexei Medvedev (URS), Pekka Kare (FIN), Celestin Bovi (FRA). Members of Bureau: Dr. Juan Francisco Marcos Becerro (ESP), Vasil Ivanov Valev (BUL), Yngve Frölander (SWE), Bedrich Poula (TCH), Esat Sadi Kazanci (TUR), Lazar Baroga (ROM). Technical and Referee Committee: President: Gottfried Schödl (AUT), Secretary: Dr. Gerhard Carl (GDR), Members: Stanislaw Zgondek (POL), Gunnar Hoff-Leirvik (NOR), Aldo Bergamaschi (ITA), Konstantin Artemyev (URS), Otto Schumann (FRG), Rene Duverger (FRA). Medical Committee: Chairman: Dr. Ottó Arató (HUN), Secretary: Dr. Friedhelm Beuker (GDR). Members: Dr. Jaroslav Czech (TCH), Dr. Georgi Georgiev (BUL), Dr. Kari Kauko (FIN), Dr. S. Aziz (TUR), Dr. Jean-Paul Fouletier (FRA), Dr. Zenon Walecki (POL), Dr. Domenico Centonza (ITA). Auditor Committee: Chairman: Bengt Cannerström (SWE). Members: Karol Wiener (TCH), Dr. Stanislaw Leszek (POL), Freddy Couchier (BEL).
In those remarkable Warsaw days the highest authorities of the International Federation were far from being enthusiastic about this significant step into the future. The newly created Continental Federation was undoubtedly a disliked child. Failing to answer the call of times, they feared a weakening of the International Federation and their own power. No chance was missed just to set roadblocks into the way of the EWF officials. Nevertheless, despite all natural and artificial obstacles, the European Federation was launched on its track and the more or less egotistical feelings of a minority disappeared to give place for a normal co-operation between Europe and the World Federation