Bahrain Weightlifting Federation President Eshaq Ebrahim Eshaq is seeking to bring the World Championships to the country ©Eshaq Ebrahim Eshaq

Bahrain has "passed the test with flying colours" in hosting a major weightlifting event for the first time and is already aiming higher, seeking to host an International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) World Championships.

From the Opening Ceremony through to the final weekend when Bahrain won its first major medals, the 2022 Asian Weightlifting Championships has been a big hit with athletes, coaches, technical officials, spectators, the media and the people who decide on hosting rights, Executive Board members of continental and global governing bodies.

IWF Board members from all over the world were among the guests in Manama.

Eshaq Ebrahim Eshaq, the 31-year-old President of the Bahrain Weightlifting Federation, and his team achieved something remarkable despite having less than three months' preparation time.

Yousef Al Mana, President of the Asian Weightlifting Federation, said the championships had been the best he had experienced in 25 years in terms of organisation and presentation, with the bonus of having no controversies in the officiating.

"This has not been a five-star competition, it has been seven stars," he said.

That view was backed up by Meso Hassona, the Olympic 96 kilograms champion who rated Manama as one of the best host venues in his career.

"Seriously, they deserve a World Championships," said Meso before going out on the platform to win the 102kg title.

"For the athletes this has been a fantastic competition."

IWF President Mohamed Jalood, left, has praised the Asian Championships as
IWF President Mohamed Jalood, left, has praised the Asian Championships as "wonderful" ©Eshaq Ebrahim Eshaq

Al Mana and Mohamed Jalood, President of the IWF, were both captivated by the opening ceremony in Manama and everything that followed.

"It has been a wonderful competition, so well organised," Jalood said.

He said Bahrain’s chances of hosting an IWF World Championships were realistic, and it could happen sooner than expected.

The 2023 and 2025 IWF World Championships have already been awarded to Saudi Arabia and Norway but now there will be an extra event in 2024.

There is usually no IWF World Championships in an Olympic year but because the number of athletes and medal events - 120 and 10 - is at an all-time low in Paris, the IWF will stage a World Championships a few months later, probably in December.

"We will ask to see who wants to host it in about one month," Jalood said, and he knows Bahrain will be among the bidders.

Eshaq said, "A lot of athletes have told me how excited they are to be here - and some who didn't enter are saying 'I wish I had gone.'

"The athletes, coaches, technical officials, our guests from the Asian Federation and the IWF - they have all made comments like 'amazing, best competition ever'.

"That reaction speaks for itself. 

"It makes all the hard work we've put into this competition more than worth it."

Bahrain has a Formula 1 Grand Prix and has hosted many major sports events before, most notably in Ironman triathlon, big mixed martial arts contests, Asian handball and ju-jitsu competitions and Gulf Cup football.

"I'm happy that weightlifting has now joined the list of sports that Bahrain has hosted recently," said Eshaq.

"We're re-emphasising Bahrain’s position as a capable host for major international sporting events.

"Now I would love to have a World Championships here.

"Hosting this event was a test for us, and from what Mr Al Mana and Jalood have said, we passed with flying colours."

Eshaq was delighted with the atmosphere around the event, which was enhanced by noisy support groups for Indonesia, China, Saudi Arabia and the host nation, which celebrated victory for Lesman Paredes in today's 96kg.

Eshaq believes the Asian Championships benefited from a big investment in marketing.

"What we tried to do, which as far as I know is unprecedented in Asian weightlifting, was to really promote the city so that everyone knew it was going on.

"Sometimes you go to a city hosting a weightlifting championship and nobody knows it’s going on.

"We have had posters on lamp posts all over the city, and as soon as you leave the airport you see Meso Hassona, Ali Davoudi, Akbar Djuraev and some of our own champions on the billboards.

"We are spreading the word about weightlifting and that is one of the things we are supposed to be doing."

Eshaq has trained but never competed in weightlifting, though he has competed in powerlifting and strong-man events.

His background is business, which is where he learned about the value of marketing and promotion.

The Opening Ceremony included traditional singers ©Bahrain Weightlifting Federation
The Opening Ceremony included traditional singers ©Bahrain Weightlifting Federation

Eshaq has an impressive CV: a Masters in information technology and computer science and a BSc in business administration from Bahrain and the United States, respectively.

He has more than 11 years of experience in the finance and investments sector.

Among other roles he is on the Board of Bahrain Airport Services, vice-chairman of the Union Gulf Investment Company and Eshaq Investment Company, an independent director of International Investment Bank and chairman at African and Eastern.

"I have had a good decade or so in business and I soon saw that there’s a lot of overlap between business and sports," he said.

"There should be more emphasis on business in weightlifting and in any sport - correct management, bookkeeping, governance in general, marketing.

"Seeing the stands full on some days was a big positive - that's something you don’t see at other sports events in Bahrain or at many other weightlifting events globally.

"I want to see fans, like you had in London at the Olympic Games [in 2012], at Birmingham this year.

"That’s what’s going to keep the sport alive… promote it, market it, create the ambience that makes it attractive for spectators and athletes.

"If you’re a spectator one day, you might be an athlete the next day.

"The outreach has been great, the social media and television coverage."

Broadcasing nine days of competition and the spectacular Opening Ceremony live on national television in Bahrain was a first.

"I hope this is just the beginning, I hope an event like this can help make weightlifting more mainstream."

The postponed Asian Games was viewed
The postponed Asian Games was viewed "as an opportunity for Bahrain" by Eshaq Ebrahim Eshaq ©Eshaq Ebrahim Eshaq

None of it would have been possible without strong support from the Government, and from a professional team on the Organising Committee , plus a large team of volunteers.

Originally there was not going to be as Asian Championships this year because the Asian Games had been scheduled for September in Hangzhou in China.

When those Games were postponed because of COVID-19, an Asian Championships was pencilled in for the Philippines - but it dropped out as host.

Eshaq "saw it as an opportunity for Bahrain" and won over the AWF Board with a presentation in Uzbekistan.

"We only received official approval in mid-July, which gave us two-and-a-half months to prepare everything when usually you have a year or more.

"It’s something of a miracle that we did it."

Eshaq chose a large hall in an upmarket hotel, the Crowne Plaza, as the competition venue rather than one of Bahrain’s bigger stadiums, which helped him to keep to his vision of having everything compact in terms of travel and accessibility.

Nobody was ever more than a few minutes away from the venue - athletes, coaches, officials.

"You want people to enjoy it, not to worry about when the next bus is coming," said Eshaq.

Another challenge was finding loaders, because there were none in Bahrain.

"We had to train them from scratch and took three weeks, maybe a month, of sitting there and drilling it into them," he said.

An edition of the IWF World Championships is planned in 2024 because of the cut in weight categories and athlete quotas for Paris 2024  ©Getty Images
An edition of the IWF World Championships is planned in 2024 because of the cut in weight categories and athlete quotas for Paris 2024 ©Getty Images

"They are doing a great job.

"All of this has helped us to instil a new culture in weightlifting here in Bahrain.

"Now we have an infrastructure here when we want to host another event.

"I feel like I came into this new world, the weightlifting family.

"In April I had gone to Switzerland for a break, and I happened to be in Lausanne when the IWF Executive Board was there.

"I made friends with them, went to the street weightlifting competition, and later to the junior World Championships in Greece.

"It was a new family, and I realised I really want to host something.

"You go to somebody’s house, you want to invite them to your house.

"They are an interesting group of people, it’s like a family and I wanted to invite them to my house."