Report: The Bulgarian Weightlifting Federation’s Election Scandal & Impact on Karlos Nasar

Disciples of Ivan Abadjiev — the mastermind behind the infamous “Bulgarian Method” — have reportedly taken control of the Bulgarian Weightlifting Federation (BWF) in a power struggle. In early March 2024, former BWF President and reformist Arif Majed made the following remark to BarBend:

“We must change the image of Bulgarian weightlifting.” Shortly after, on March 14, 2024, Majed was ousted from his position after a special electoral session was held within the BWF, called by two-time Olympic medalist Stefan Botev. 

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Botev reportedly intends to continue the “great traditions” from the Abadjev era — an ideological headbutt with Majed, who before his dismissal had claimed the BWF governance had been “lost in space” throughout the 21st century.

Majed’s removal was partially rooted in an undisclosed financial scandal, reminiscent of the stains that have long blemished Bulgaria’s weightlifting industry. Perhaps most importantly, the fallout of this shake-up may impact the future of Karlos Nasar, the country’s most talented weightlifting athlete in a generation. 

Political Upheavals in Bulgaria 

In Feb. 2024, the European Weightlifting Championship (EWC) was hosted in Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia. The competition was a resounding success; Bulgarian weightlifters won 19 medals overall, and 89-kilogram Nasar set a Junior world record in the snatch. 

During the March BWF session, accusations were made by both Majed (who initially came to power within the BWF roughly a year prior) and the Botev-led contingent. The dispute seemed to concern alleged financial crimes that are reportedly under investigation by Bulgarian police as of this article’s publication.

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Majed declined to comment “while investigations are ongoing,” but Botev remarked that many Bulgarian weightlifting clubs were displeased with the situation. “[The allegations] must be proven by the relevant institutions,” Botev told BarBend.

Before his dismissal, Majed was regarded as a forward-thinking progressive who, during his tenure, helped the BWF clear some of its financial debts and worked to restore deteriorated relationships with both the Bulgarian Sports Ministry and the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF). 

Nasar, 19, stole the show at the EWC in Sofia. Majed holds him in high esteem: “[Karlos] is a superstar … an idol to Bulgarians of all ages. He will bring more fans to the sport.” But it is becoming distinctly possible that Nasar won’t continue to lift for Bulgaria after the Paris 2024 Olympics conclude this August. 

Impact on Karlos Nasar 

At the EWC, there was allegedly talk of Nasar changing nationality to lift for Bahrain. A Feb. 5 Bulgarian news report indicated that a deal to “sell” Nasar’s transfer for over a million dollars had fallen through — both Majed and Bahraini federation President Eshaq Ebrahim Eshaq dismissed the news, with the latter regarding it as “crazy rumors.” 

While the rumors of Nasar lifting for Bahrain are unsubstantiated, it wouldn’t be a first. Bulgarian weightlifters have historically lifted on behalf of other nations during periods of turmoil within their own country. Botev and several teammates competed (and won medals) for Australia in the 1990s. Naim Süleymanoğlu, often considered one of the best weightlifters of all time, was born in Bulgaria but lifted for Turkey for most of his career. 

Majed remains concerned about Nasar’s welfare: “[The BWF split] affects Karlos because he wants to have a federation that supports him…that’s the least any athlete should expect,” said Majed. “All this bitterness that goes on, it’s bad for him. Bad for all the athletes.”

Nasar declined to comment publicly on the ongoing strife within the BWF. However, it is said that he refuses to train under the eyes of a Botev-aligned Bulgarian national coach. 

Historical Hardships

The “Majed scandal” is hardly the first struggle for Bulgaria’s weightlifting bureaucracy. Before 1972, the country had never won a single Olympic medal in weightlifting. At the ‘72 Games in Munich, Bulgaria made its mark on history, winning three gold and three silver medals. 

Much of the Bulgarians’ success was owed to Abadjiev, who devised the brutally demanding “Bulgarian Method” — a high-intensity, PED-fueled training structure that required athletes to train as hard in a day, every day, as others might train in a week. 

Drug abuse was so rampant within Bulgaria that, in 2015, after 11 national team members tested positive for stanozolol, Bulgaria was banned from attending the 2016 Olympics in Rio. One Bulgarian news outlet began its report on the incident by remarking, “National doping team caught with barbells…”

Poor organizational management has been a problem for Bulgaria as well. In July 2022, the Bulgarian Sports Ministry revoked the BWF’s operating license after the weightlifting team threatened to strike because they had not been paid for their performances. According to reporting from insidethegames, BWF’s then-leader Nedelcho Kolev was deemed “incapable of doing his job.” 

Successfully operating the BWF was “always a battle,” Majed said, citing little to no bureaucratic support from the Federation’s executive board. “They didn’t want me as President … They wanted me to clear their debts.” 

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Looking Forward?

Majed was replaced as President of the BWF by Anton Kodjabashev, another retired Bulgarian weightlifting champion and a personal friend of Botev. Kodjabashev had been President of the BWF in the past.

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Joining Kodjashev on the Federation’s executive board are several other former Abadjiev athletes. The group, Botev says, remains intent on continuing their former coach’s “great traditions.” 

Before his removal, Majed spoke about his concerns regarding the power struggle and how he believes it will impact the young Nasar: “…if [the session] goes the wrong way, it will be bad for the sport, bad for the [national] team, and bad for Karlos.” 

However, Botev held a different view before the reorganization. “There is no confidence in the current leadership of the [BWF]. Bulgarian weightlifting has a future, but it depends on who manages it,” he said. 

As of March 2024, Nasar is the number-two ranked 89-kilogram weightlifter in the world behind Chinese athlete Li Dayin. Nasar is likely to make it to the podium at the Paris Olympics. Beyond that, things are less clear, due to the unsteady ground upon which the BWF sits. 

DisclaimerBrian Oliver is an independent correspondent for BarBend. The views and opinions expressed on this site do not necessarily reflect his own. Oliver is not directly affiliated with any of BarBend’s existing media partnerships.

Featured image: @karlos_nasar_ on Instagram

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