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Fencing Championship scandal: Why Ukraine's Kharlan was disqualified

Fencing Championship scandal: Why Ukraine's Kharlan was disqualified Olga Kharlan (Getty Images)

A scandal erupted at the World Fencing Championship because of the disqualification of Ukrainian athlete Olga Kharlan as after the victory over the Russian in "neutral" status, she refused to shake her opponent's hand. RBC-Ukraine explains the background and all details known so far.

What happened today

At the World Fencing Championship, Kharlan defeated "neutral" Russian fencer Anna Smirnova. After the match, Smirnova approached Kharlan to shake hands, as per the competition rules. However, Kharlan refused and instead offered to "salute with swords."

Offended, Smirnova remained on the piste for nearly an hour, demanding punishment for what she saw as a "display of disrespect." Initially, her request was denied, and a new opponent was assigned to Kharlan. However, the International Fencing Federation soon disqualified the Ukrainian athlete and issued her a black card.

This black card not only prevents Kharlan from continuing in individual competitions but also disqualifies her from representing the Ukrainian team.

Why Kharlan was punished

Kharlan was disqualified supposedly for showing disrespect. The competition rules state that opponents are expected to shake hands after the match, and her refusal was considered a violation of these rules.

However, as Ukrainian Minister of Youth and Sports and President of the NOC of Ukraine Vadym Gutzeit said, Ukraine had warned the International Fencing Federation and organizers that Ukrainians would not shake hands with Russians. As a formal show of "respect," they suggested "saluting with swords" or a simple salute instead.

Ukraine will contest the disqualification

Following the scandal, the President of the Ukrainian Fencing Federation, Mykhailo Ilyashev, stated that Ukraine would appeal the International Fencing Federation's decision to issue a black card to Kharlan.

"We are preparing a protest at the moment. We will appeal this decision because the referee who officiated the match did not issue a black card nor disqualify her. It was only later that these 'underhanded games' began, and this disqualification emerged after her next opponent had been determined," he said.

Unfortunately, as Ilyashev explained, Kharlan will no longer be able to continue in individual competitions, but if the disqualification is overturned, she can still compete as part of the Ukrainian team. The Ukrainian complaint is expected to be reviewed in the coming days.

Reaction from the IOC

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) commented on the situation involving Kharlan at the Championship in Milan. The organization called on International Federations to handle situations concerning Ukrainian athletes and "neutral" Russians with the "necessary degree of sensitivity."

"We encourage international federations to handle situations involving Ukrainian and individual neutral athletes with the necessary degree of sensitivity. We continue to stand in full solidarity with the Ukrainian athletes," the IOC said in a statement.

Ukraine and competing against Russians

The Ministry of Youth and Sports decided not to boycott international competitions where Russians or Belarusians participate in a neutral status.

However, the Ministry outlined a condition under which such competitions would still be boycotted. Specifically, this applies to cases where Russians violate their neutral status.