Belgium's Nina Sterckx is among several weightlifters about IWF rules which mean they must wear a bra when they weigh-in ©Getty Images

Female weightlifters who have been told they must wear a bra when they weigh in say the rules are unfair, unclear and that "if we must wear a bra, so must the men".

New weigh-in rules were a subject of much discussion among athletes at the European Championships that ended in Armenia at the weekend and have also led to complaints and confusion among coaches, technical officials and members of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) Athletes Commission.

"We have been talking about this on the Athletes Commission for about a year - the old AC and the new one - but we were not consulted about the wording of the new rules, which are unclear," said Forrester Osei, the Athletes Commission chair.

"The change has been made for safeguarding reasons and we completely agree with that.

"The athletes, especially young athletes, must be protected, safeguarding protocols must be compulsory."

The IWF promised it will take another look at the new weigh-in rules, in consultation with the Athletes Commission, with the aim of making them "absolutely fair" for all weightlifters.

Nina Sterckx, the Olympian from Belgium, was upset because she was allowed to weigh in topless at one Olympic qualifying competition for Paris 2024 but not at the next one.

There was no problem with her weight before she finished second in the women’s 59 kilograms contest in Yerevan, but she was told she had to put on a bra to weigh in.

If the same had been the case in the first Olympic qualifier, the IWF World Championships in Colombia in December, it would have been a huge problem because Sterckx competed at 49kg, the lowest Olympic weight class, and weighed in right on the limit at 49.00kg.

But she was allowed to weigh in topless without a problem in Bogotá.

IWF Athletes Commission chair Forrester Osei is in consultations with the world governing body about the controversial rules introduced for safeguarding reasons ©Facebook
IWF Athletes Commission chair Forrester Osei is in consultations with the world governing body about the controversial rules introduced for safeguarding reasons ©Facebook

"At the World Championships I could weigh in without a bra, here at the European Championship I was told I couldn’t," Sterckx said in Yerevan.

"These are both qualifying competitions for Paris, this is not right."

If Sterckx had been told to put on a bra in Colombia, she would have had to lose 200g within an hour when she had already been trying hard to cut weight.

"It isn’t fair, and the rules should change," she said.

"Either we can weigh in without a bra or if we have to wear a bra, so should the men."

Britain’s Zoe Smith agreed with Sterckx, as did many technical officials whose job it is to oversee the weigh-in procedures.

"This looks like another example of gender inequality in sport," said Smith after winning a bronze medal at 64kg.

"We are at a disadvantage compared with men because we were told we have to wear twice as much underwear at the weigh-in.

"At my weigh-in I started to remove my bra and was told it had to stay on.

"The rules are not consistent - others have spoken about it here and we want consistency."

Britain's Zoe Smith has claimed the rule is another example of
Britain's Zoe Smith has claimed the rule is another example of "gender inequality in sport" ©Getty Images

The problem is the wording of the rules, which were updated just before Paris 2024 qualifying began at the IWF World Championships.

Under the previous ruling, athletes could weigh-in "completely undressed" but the amended rule 6.4 now states "Athletes must be weighed in in undergarments."

There is no definition of what constitutes "undergarments", a word that was interpreted one way in Colombia and another in Yerevan.

One member of the Athletes Commission said in a group chat, "We weren’t consulted and there is no definition of undergarments.

"The only detail we had is that it must cover the intimate parts, so only stickers on nipples should be fine?

"It is really unfair for a female lifter as a bra weighs at least 200 grams."

Other members claimed that athletes were not adequately informed about the changes, which were announced by the IWF on November 29 last year and came into force on the first day of the World Championships on December 5.

One female athlete recently cut off her hair to make the weight, but she was not as much as 200 grams over the limit.

"Trust me, 200 grams is a lot to lose when you are dehydrated and have cut your calories for weeks," said one Athletes Commission member.

Another said, "The change should have been made when the Olympic qualifying system was announced [several months earlier], it should have been posted on social media or announced properly.

"And consult us, the athletes, if there are some changes."

The IWF has promised to review the rule so it is fairer for female weightlifters ©Getty Images
The IWF has promised to review the rule so it is fairer for female weightlifters ©Getty Images

Osei said a weight allowance could be made for "undergarments" at weigh-in, which would be higher for women than men.

He has discussed the idea with the IWF Technical Committee and is awaiting a decision.

There was encouragement for the Athletes Commission today when Antonio Urso, the IWF general secretary, said in reply to questions from insidethegames, "The IWF is aware of some concern among athletes on the change of rule concerning the weigh-in conditions.

"When adopting the new regulations, the IWF naturally wanted to ensure that no differences could be felt between our male and female lifters.

"This is apparently not the case and the IWF will therefore proceed to further consultations with our Athletes Commission to provide any additional details for a full, comprehensive and absolutely fair implementation of the new rule."

Athletes weigh in behind a curtain; a technical official of the same gender will write down the weight and show it to the athlete for confirmation before it is logged by computer.

Sterckx’s coach Tom Goegebuer said, "Opinions on this will never be aligned on what you should wear, what is acceptable.

"In some countries women have to be completely covered by law, in other countries it is considered part of freedom that women can decide about how they dress.

"So, the discussion about what is safeguarding will depend on culture, religion and education.

"Then there is also the difference between man and woman.

"In some sports they avoid this discussion by wearing the competition suit at weigh-in and take away some fixed grams.

"There has been a lack of consultation with athletes and coaches."

The next Olympic qualifying competition is due to be the Asian Championships in Jinju in South Korea, starting on May 5.