On Thursday, July 27th, Ukrainian fencer Olga Kharlan defeated Russian fencer Anna Smirnova in a match at the Fencing World Championships held in Milan. After the match, Smirnova approached Kharlan to offer a greeting, but the Ukrainian athlete placed her saber in front of the Russian, refusing to shake hands. According to the rules of the International Fencing Federation, Kharlan allegedly showed “disrespect” towards her opponent, leading to her disqualification. The competition rules clearly state that at the end of a match, opponents must shake hands, and the refusal to do this formal gesture is considered a violation of the rules. The disqualification makes it impossible for Kharlan to participate not only in individual competitions but also as part of the Ukrainian team. The president of the Ukrainian Fencing Federation, Mykhailo Ilyashev, stated that Ukraine is preparing a protest and contesting the decision of the International Fencing Federation. According to him, the referee did not disqualify Kharlan. The disqualification occurred after Kharlan’s next opponent was determined, and a referee was even assigned for the next match. He believes that there is an “underground” manipulation in this case. The Ukrainian Minister of Youth and Sports, Vadym Guttsayt, said that Ukraine had warned the organizers of the Fencing World Championships in advance that Ukrainian athletes would not shake hands with “neutral” athletes from Russia. Vadym Guttsayt called the incident with the “neutral” Russian athlete a provocation.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has called on various sports organizations to show more sensitivity during competitions between Ukrainian athletes and citizens of the Russian Federation participating as “neutrals.” In an official statement from the IOC, it is stated: “We call on international federations to approach situations involving Ukrainian athletes and individual neutral athletes with the necessary degree of sensitivity. We remain fully supportive of Ukrainian athletes.” Commenting on her actions, Olga Kharlan emphasized that she was deeply affected by the decision of the International Fencing Federation but could not act differently and refuse to shake hands with a representative of an aggressor country. “What happened today… It raises many questions, but at the same time, many answers. We understood that the country that terrorizes our country, our people, our families, is also terrorizing sports,” said the Ukrainian athlete. As for Russian athlete Anna Smirnova, photos have been posted on social media showing her posing with a young man in the uniform of the Russian army, which clearly contradicts her “neutral” status. The common assertion that sports are separate from politics is now outdated. In the past, there have been cases where Ukrainian athletes did not shake hands with opponents from hostile countries such as Russia, Belarus, and Iran. But here, we have a clash between a great athlete, who achieved an unquestionable victory, and the sports bureaucracy, which clearly succumbed to Russia’s political interests. Ultimately, this will set a precedent for the entire world of sports.