The fencing federations of Germany and Poland canceled upcoming World Cups due to the International Fencing Federation (FIE) voting on March 10 to lift its ban on fencers from Russia and Belarus.
The FIE voted to reinstate fencers from Russia and Belarus into international competition starting in the second half of April, “subject to possible future IOC recommendations/decisions, and in compliance with conditions of neutrality and individual eligibility.”
The FIE did not respond to a request for more details, but the U.S., British and Ukrainian federations all issued statements shortly after the vote indicating that they expected the reinstatement to happen.
After the FIE vote, the IOC on March 28 updated its recommendations to sports federations regarding Russia and Belarus athlete participation, advising that they can return to competitions outside of the Olympics as neutral athletes in individual events and only if they do not actively support the war in Ukraine. It is up to each international sports federation to decide whether to readmit Russians and Belarusians.
Since the IOC update, other sports federations said they plan to look into possible reinstatement of Russia and Belarus athletes under those conditions. Other than fencing, taekwondo’s international federation is the lone sport so far to definitively reinstate Russians and Belarusians to top-level competition since the IOC update, saying it will do so for world championships at the end of May.
Before the IOC update, Russians and Belarusians were already eligible to compete in some other international sports, including tennis and cycling, as neutral athletes.
The 2024 Olympic qualifying window for fencing begins this month and lasts into April 2024. Fencers can earn points to qualify quota spots for their nations in individual and team events.
The Polish fencing federation announced last Wednesday that it will not host a previously scheduled World Cup from April 21-23 in Poznan, the lone World Cup scheduled in April.
“There is a risk that a large number of competitors with Russian and Belarusian passports will be admitted in a poorly controlled manner,” the federation said, according to a Reuters translation. “The Polish Fencing Association supports the Ukrainian Fencing Federation in its efforts to remove from the competitions and the world fencing environment people who support the brutal war in Ukraine and endorse the regime of Vladimir Putin. So as the organizer of the World Cup in Poznan, it could not accept such a situation.”
That came after the German federation announced on March 16 that it will not host a previously scheduled World Cup the first weekend of May in Tauberbischofsheim, the hometown of IOC president and 1976 Olympic fencing champion Thomas Bach.
After Germany canceled its World Cup, another World Cup was added to the FIE schedule for the same weekend in Bulgaria.
“Our solidarity goes to the people of Ukraine who are suffering from the war of aggression,” German federation president Claudia Bokel said in the March 16 announcement, according to a Reuters translation. “The German Fencing Federation accepts [the FIE] decision. We now want to give a clear signal that we would have liked a different result and that we still see a large number of open implementation questions from the world federation, which make it impossible to carry out the tournament.”
The next top-level international fencing competition scheduled is a Grand Prix in Seoul in two weeks.
The Ukraine government decided in late March that, across sports, its athletes should not compete in 2024 Olympic qualifying events if Russians are present, according to several media reports in Ukraine.
USA Fencing voted against reinstating Russia and Belarus. CEO Phil Andrews said last month that decisions on competing in events that allow Russia and Belarus athletes would be up to the individual American fencers.
“Our primary focus is the well-being and support of our athletes,” Andrews said in a statement. “We believe in empowering our athletes to make informed decisions about their participation. We will provide them with the necessary information regarding how their choices may impact their qualification for future tournaments, especially the Olympics. However, let me be clear: USA Fencing will not impose any penalties, and will support any funding impacts, on our athletes for choosing not to compete, or to protest this shocking decision. Their personal convictions and comfort levels are of utmost importance to us, and we stand by them, no matter their decision.”
Russian fencers topped the Tokyo Olympic standings with eight medals and three golds, competing under the Russian Olympic Committee name. Belarus, which has zero Olympic fencing medals, had no fencers at the Tokyo Games and one fencer at the Rio Games.
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