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International fencing to change rules after disqualifying Ukrainian fencer for refusing to shake hands with Russian opponent

by Alexander Khrebet July 29, 2023 2:59 PM 1 min read
Ukraine's Olha Kharlan (L) refuses to shake hands with Russia's Anna Smirnova, registered as an Individual Neutral Athlete (AIN), after she defeated her during the Sabre Women's Senior Individual qualifiers, as part of the FIE Fencing World Championships in Milan, on July 27, 2023. (Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images)
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The International Fencing Federation (FIE) has decided to change the rules following its controversial decision to disqualify Ukrainian fencer Olga Kharlan after she refused to shake hands with her defeated Russian opponent on July 27 at the 2023 Fencing World Championships currently underway in Milan, Italy.

The FIE announced the traditional handshake at the end of the duel would be replaced by a salute, allowing Ukrainians not to approach Russians, even if they are competing under the neutral flag, Italian La Republica reported on July 28.

Kharlan won the match against Russian fencer Anna Smirnova on July 27, who was competing under a neutral flag. Kharlan refused to shake hands, offering her saber to tap blades instead. Smirnova refused, staging a protest by remaining on the piste for more than half an hour.

The Ukrainian athlete was disqualified as the rules in fencing dictated that shaking an opponent's hand is mandatory, with failure to do so resulting in a “black card.”

Following a large public outcry, the FIE on July 28 reversed its decision after consulting with the International Olympic Committee, reinstating Kharlan in the Milan competitions and guaranteeing her a spot in the Paris Olympics next year.

“The most important thing for an athlete is to be able to compete, for my family, my team, my country, and all the people who support me. During these difficult few days, I appreciate all the support I’ve had from around the world,” said Kharlan following the reversal.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has urged international sporting governing bodies to treat contests between Ukrainians and neutral athletes (implying Russian and Belarus athletes) "with the necessary degree of sensitivity" after Kharlan's disqualification.

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