The International Fencing Federation (FIE) is to change its traditional rules, which stipulate that handshakes are mandatory following a bout, after Ukraine’s Olga Kharlan refused to extend the courtesy to her Russian counterpart, Anna Smirnova, following a bout in Milan this week, according to Italian newspaper La Repubblica.
“Thursday’s incident will change the rules of fencing,” La Repubblica reported on Friday, following discussions 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.
Kharlan was initially disqualified from the World Championships on Thursday, when she offered to tap blades rather than shake hands after her 15-7 win over Smirnova, who was competing as a neutral athlete.
This prompted the Russian to stage a 45-minute sit-down protest in the arena. The world fencing rules had up to then mandated that handshakes must be shared after a bout.
Failure to comply, according to the federation’s rules, would result in a ‘black card’ and expulsion from its competitions.
But following an intervention from IOC president Thomas Bach, Kharlan was readmitted to the tournament and has been granted automatic entry to next year’s Olympic Games in Paris.
- In a letter to Kharlan, Bach – himself a former fencer – expressed his “full support” for the Ukrainian competitor and said that a place at the Olympics would be held in reserve for her due to the “unique situation” of her disqualification potentially preventing her from tallying the necessary points to qualify for the event next year.
Kharlan said of the Thursday incident that she had “acted with my heart” and called for FIE to amend its rules “because the world is changing.”
- Responding to Bach, she wrote: “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.”
However, Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) chief Stanislav Pozdnyakov claimed the move to accommodate Kharlan’s stance demonstrates that the IOC has “picked a side.”
- “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,” he said on Telegram on Friday. Pozdnyakov added that the IOC’s directive demonstrates that it “clearly showed duplicity.”
The World Fencing Championships concludes this weekend.