Weightlifting Fiji says the decision by lifters from Levuka to boycott the Oceania Championships has taken them by complete surprise.
Commonwealth Games gold medallist Eileen Cikamatana and bronze medallist Apolonia Vaivai are among the group who have refused to compete in New Caledonia unless Weightlifting Fiji drops plans to make them move to Suva to work under Iranian coach Hossein Tavakoli.
The President of the Levuka Club, Peni Tawai, said they were not consulted over the decision and their lifters are happy working with their coach, Joe Vueti.
But Weightlifting Fiji President Atma Maharaj said the first discussion about appointing an international coach was made in December 2016 and the hiring process has been advertised extensively over the past 18 months, including on social media, via press releases and articles in the news media.
He said the Levuka lifters were "well aware" of what was happening and the decision to boycott the Oceania Championships came out of the blue.
"Because we had basically all these discussions in very amicable manner," he said.
"We've been talking to the athletes. We talked to them - we had a briefing meeting at the end of the Commonwealth Games.
"...and then on the last day before the closing ceremony we had a good two hour session with the athletes, briefed them on the future and we went through all these discussions," recalled Maharaj.
"There's athletes basically who are involved in the stand-off at the moment who in general were saying 'when is the international coach coming, when is the international coach coming', so there's been a lot of discussions that has happened."
Atma Maharaj said at the 2008 Oceania Championships no athletes from Fiji were present but over the past decade Weightlifting Fiji has worked tirelessly to improve weightlifting in the country, using Levuka as a model to develop a community and eliminate criminal activity.
"What has been happening in Baba has been really driven by Weightlifting Fiji - that's the reality," he said.
"...firstly in 2009 we built a gym there, a smaller gym. When we grew to a certain level in 2013/early 2014 we built a bigger gym out there so we have been working very hard to build Levuka to where it is," he said.
"Levuka is a Weightlifting Centre that we have worked really hard to develop and what we want to do now, in working with the government, working with the Fiji Sports Commission, working with our stakeholders, we want to be able to take the sport to other parts of Fiji as well now that we've got a model that is working."
The President rejected accusations that the Levuka Club had been the victim of a series of injustices by the national body but did acknowledged a promise to repair the gym destroyed by Cyclone Winston in 2016 was yet to be fulfilled.
"This gym is at a top of the hill in Levuka and there's a lot of steps you've got to go up to it so we basically around the middle of last year, while waiting for finances to be approved, working with guys in Levuka [like] Joe Vueti organised for the rebuilding of the floor," he said.
"Because you've got to take the cement, you've got to take the gravel from the river and you've got to take the sand and it's a big effort to do that.
"Now that was completed probably around September/October and we have been finalising the funding and the funding has been confirmed but we are waiting for the final paperwork and arrangements to be done [by the International Olympic Committee]."
The incoming national head coach, Hossein Tavakoli, won an Olympic gold medal for Iran at the Sydney 2000 Games in the men's 105kg category and Atma Maharaj insisted
he will make Fiji's lifters "much, much, much better".
"We don't have a [coach of the] calibre of the international coach," he argued.
"I think there's a lot of misrepresentations taking place in terms of our success and what the performances are and how they translate."
"Apolonia Vaivai in 2017 in September did a total of 231kg - did 105kg for the snatch in Ashgabat as her PB and a Oceania record and she did 126kg in the clean and jerk in Gold Coast a couple of weeks before that.
"She was training in Suva since February or March of 2017 under Della Shaw-Elder and Henry Elder in a very tightly run programme...prior to that she had never gone past 215kg as a 75kg [class lifter] and more like 206kg as a 69kg.
"She did 231kg as a 69kg [lifter]. She was like in the top ten in the world, moved up fairly quickly and she was starting to look as if she was going to go up to
240kg and all that.
"She chose to go back at Joe Vueti [in Levuka] and she never improved beyond 216, both as a 69 or even a 75kg - she went backwards by 15kg."
Atma Maharaj said all lifters wanting to be considered for the Oceania Championships must take part in the final trials on Saturday and commit to competing in New Caledonia.
"So anybody, irrespective of whether this particular thing had happened or not happened, they'd have to compete on Saturday in Suva to be considered," he said.
"...as part of that because several people have said they are going to boycott Oceania they have to withdraw their support from that boycott because then only we know in formal writing that they are now committing themselves to going to Oceania."
"We have given them the opportunity to withdraw in writing by Sunday 12 noon, which is really by the time we finish this meeting with the people from Levuka on Sunday."
A mediator visited Levuka last week to discuss their grievances and representatives from the Fiji Olympic Committee, FASANOC and Weightlifting Fiji are due to meet with the club again at the weekend in an effort to resolve the matter.