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Yesterday we held the extraordinary assembly of the National Strength Alliance (ANF), in Brazil. We needed to indicate new members, new board of directors and decide about basic issues. From the original composition, only two members were left. All the others had more important things to do, disagreed with the purpose of the organization and one, the natural leader and most focused of us all, Luiz Henrique Cruz, died from a heart attack at a young age.
In the beginning of last year I had lost hope and was convinced the ANF was destined to failure. To understand my state of mind, you must first understand Brazilian powerlifting. It took me years to do so, but I’m starting to put together facts and interpretation.
We must do that in order to understand why we are at a crossroads between backyard powerlifting and bureaucratic corrupt terrorism, the reason why in 2007 a few lifters called for a new organization that would finally set things right. What people called for was not a “new” alternative, but a return to the roots, to the original project of a healthy sport.
Powerlifting started here, as an organized sport, by mid seventies. During the heroic years, there was camaraderie and a true commitment to sport. Leaders were naïve and unaware of what was happening at the international level. Few spoke other languages and communication was harder. A few years later, however, several local groups were upset with the manner by which the sport was being managed. Evidence of biased refereeing, suspicious financial management and authoritarian governance was accumulating. Finally, by mid to late nineties, fractions separated from the original group, that remained with the IPF.
The new fractions affiliated themselves to the WABDL and WNPF, and a few remained local. Unfortunately, the growth of “backyard powerlifting”, a caricature of the sport where meets are held to satisfy payers’ wish for a trophy, with no respect for rules or procedure, distorted any healthy intention at the base of the alternative projects.
The result is what we have today: the crossroads.
In 2007, a group of us decided to respond to the call for action and to build an alternative to the two unacceptable paths in Brazilian powerlifting. It took two more years to finally organize it and we made the National Strength Alliance in 2009. In the first year, we were practically dominated by backyard powerlifting. I had no experience with sports management and with powelifting, for that matter, in which I was a total newcomer (I discovered the sport in 2006). I was utterly powerless at each meet, when my guidelines were, one by one, disregarded and, in the end, what I saw was the same old fake lifting I despised, but now with my signature.
At the other side of the fence, the IPF leaders’ hostility against any criticism was mounting. For obvious reasons, I was the icon for such unwanted rebellion. I was actually getting tired of receiving threats and even attempts to undermine my professional life, books, teaching and other projects. I have more to do than try and save the world. Finally, I understood why everybody else had given up.
I decided it was over. If this is all Brazil could handle – either authoritarian and corrupt governance or fake powerlifting, then I would lift somewhere else.
That was when Leonardo Cavaglia invited me to the South American raw powerlifting championship, under GPA sanction, and to form the ASUPO – the South American Powerlifting Alliance. What happened there, for some reason, fueled a new enthusiasm in Brazil to build a local alternative for the sport.
A new group of committed people, unrelated to either the old authoritarian group or to any version of backyard powerlifting gathered and decided to take action.
Since our hands are clean, we have good chances of attracting public funding for socially relevant sports projects, now that we re-organized the Alliance.
I would be totally optimistic if it weren’t for the fact that a few hours after the Assembly, I received a complaint from a young lifter who showed up at the IPF national championship to help a friend and was not only hostilized, but expelled from the site. Which, by the way, is illegal, since it is a public gymnasium. His crime: maintaining virtual contact with me.
It seems old habits die hard, violence being the hardest of them all.
We will go on with our small army, we will organize small meets, decent and strictly ruled, and I really don’t care if just half a dozen lifters show up. This is not entertainment or a business: it’s a sport and a noble art. Those who gathered here yesterday agree on that and we will stick to the plan.
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