FIE to alter rules after Ukrainian fencer subbed Russian opponent
Following this week's incident involving Ukrainian and Russian fencers, handshakes will reportedly be replaced by a "distance greeting".
According to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Ukraine's Olga Kharlan declined to shake hands with her Russian opponent Anna Smirnova after their bout in Milan this week, prompting the International Fencing Federation (FIE) to change its customary rules.
"Thursday’s incident will change the rules of fencing," La Repubblica reported on Friday, after talks that took place between FIE and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
"The traditional handshake at the end of the bout will be replaced with immediate effect by a distance greeting, which will allow Ukrainians not to approach the Russians, even if they compete as neutrals," the report stated.
Following her 15-7 victory over Smirnova, who was competing as a neutral athlete, Kharlan volunteered to tap blades rather than shake hands and was thereby initially disqualified from the World Championships. This pushed the Russians to stage a 45-minute sit-down protest in the arena. Up until that point, the conclusion of a battle required handshakes, according to the global fencing rules. The federation's rules provide that failure to comply will result in a "black card" and removal from its tournaments.
Kharlan was allowed to reenter the competition because of IOC President Thomas Bach's intervention, and she now has an automatic spot in the Paris Olympics for the following year.
Bach, a former fencer himself, wrote to Kharlan to express his "full support" for the Ukrainian competitor and to let her know that a spot at the Olympics would be held for her because of the "unique situation" of her disqualification, which might prevent her from accruing enough points to qualify for the competition the following year.
"I knew what I was risking, but I didn’t expect that it would shake up the entire Ukrainian society and everyone would join the fight with me," Kharlan said, in a response to Bach.
On his part, Stanislav Pozdnyakov, the head of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), asserted that the IOC has "picked a side" in its decision to accommodate Kharlan's position.
On Telegram, he wrote on Friday that the statement in question "indicates that the IOC determined for itself and picked a side in the political conflict, [and] began to act in the interests of this side."
Pozdnyakov added that the IOC’s directive shows that it "clearly showed duplicity."
The World Fencing Championships concludes this weekend.