By Angel Krasimirov
SOFIA (Reuters) - The Bulgarian weightlifting federation (BWF) has decided to seek help from the country's former medal winners in an attempt to raise money to pay a fine imposed by the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) for doping abuse.
In December, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has halved the $500,000 fine after 11 lifters tested positive for the banned anabolic steroid stanozolol in 2015, but the cash-strapped BWF still can't collect the sum.
"We urge all current and former European, world and Olympic champions and medallists, their coaches and club managers, their families and friends, all citizens of the country to help Bulgarian weightlifting in this critical moment," the BWF said in a statement.
Bulgaria has long been a world powerhouse in weightlifting, winning 37 Olympic medals, including 12 golds. Its athletes have also won 224 medals, including 79 golds, at world championships, as well as 167 European titles.
The BWF has sought financial help from the Bulgarian government but the sports ministry has poured cold water on the national body's hopes, saying "there is no legal basis for paying the fine".
Bulgaria was limited to two men and two women for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo due to its doping violations from 2008 to 2020. But the BWF could lose its licence on June 18 and miss all international events if it fails to pay the $250,000 fine.
BWF president Nedelcho Kolev told Reuters he had asked IWF president Tamas Ajan for a deadline extension, but the Hungarian refused any concessions.
"It's a crucial time for Bulgarian weightlifting, the future of the sport is at stake," said Kolev, who won two world and two European titles as well as a bronze medal at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
The IWF hopes what it see as "innovative and creative" rules targeting nations who have violated anti-doping regulations will secure the long term future of the sport in the Olympic programme.
Bulgarian weightlifting has suffered repeated embarrassment due to doping cases.
The country's weightlifters were absent from the Olympics in Rio two years ago over a high number of doping cases and the national body was temporarily stripped of its licence in 2009.
Bulgaria withdrew its team prior to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing when 11 members failed doping tests. At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the Bulgarian team were stripped of three gold medals and sent home in shame following positive drugs tests.
(Reporting by Angel Krasimirov, Editing by William Maclean)