Russia Olympic champs in taekwondo, fencing barred from world championships

Sofia Pozdniakova

Olympic gold medalists from Russia are barred from upcoming world championships in taekwondo and fencing, while others from their nation will be allowed, as those sports follow IOC recommendations for reintegrating Russian athletes.

Vladislav Larin and Maksim Khramtsov, who in Tokyo became the first taekwondo athletes from Russia to win an Olympic title, had their applications to compete in next week’s world championships denied by World Taekwondo, according to multiple reports.

World Taekwondo said Tuesday that it admitted 23 neutral athletes from Belarus and Russia and that two athletes’ applications were rejected because they didn’t fulfill conditions for participation outlined by the IOC’s recommendations in March. World Taekwondo did not name the two rejected athletes.

On March 20, the IOC recommended to international sports federations that, should they decide to readmit athletes from Russia and Belarus as neutrals, to only accept those who do not actively support the war in Ukraine and are not actively contracted by the military.

Several sports have since taken steps toward reintegrating some Russian and Belarusian athletes, including taekwondo and fencing.

In response, Ukraine has boycotted some competitions, including taekwondo worlds. Ukraine also boycotted the world judo championships earlier this month, the first world championships in an Olympic sport run by an IOC-sanctioned sport federation to include athletes from Russia since December 2021.

Also Tuesday, the president of Italy’s National Olympic Committee said that at least some fencers from Russia would not be allowed into the country for the world championships in that sport in July in Milan on the advice of the Italian government and following the IOC recommendations, according to Reuters. He specifically named Tokyo Olympic sabre champion Sofia Pozdniakova, whose father is Russian Olympic Committee president Stanislav Pozdnyakov.

Fencing’s international governing body (FIE) has approved some athletes from Russia to compete internationally as neutrals, but that list includes neither Pozdniakova nor any of the nation’s other six gold medalists from the Tokyo Games, according to Russian news agency TASS.

FIE lifted restrictions on athletes from Russia and Belarus earlier in March, while the IOC was still recommending all athletes be banned. But so far, no Russian or Belarusian athlete has returned to compete in the sport’s top-level World Cup and Grand Prix events.

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Russia may boycott Olympic fencing qualifying after gold medalists barred

Russia Fencing

The president of the Russian Olympic Committee indicated Thursday that the country could boycott qualifying competitions in fencing for next year’s Paris Games after some athletes, including his own daughter, were barred from competing.

On March 28, the International Olympic Committee updated its recommendations to international sports federations to possibly allow competitors from Russia and Belarus to compete as neutral athletes without national symbols after the invasion of Ukraine, but still excluding those employed by the military or security services, or those who have publicly backed the war.

Two-time gold medalist Yana Egorian and all three of the gold medalists in women’s team sabre from the Tokyo Olympics — Sofya Velikaya, Olga Nikitina and Sofia Pozdniakova — were refused after vetting from the International Fencing Federation, Russian Fencing Federation president Ilgar Mamedov told state news agencies.

Pozdniakova is the daughter of Russian Olympic Committee president Stanislav Pozdnyakov.

Some lesser-known fencers were approved to compete, Mamedov said. But he didn’t say why the other fencers were refused and there was no immediate confirmation from the International Fencing Federation, known as the FIE.

All three of the women’s team sabre gold medalists were identified as being affiliated with the Central Sports Club of the Army, known as CSKA, in a 2021 statement on the Russian Defense Ministry website following the Tokyo Olympics. It listed Velikaya with the rank of captain and Nikitina as a sergeant. They and Egorian are all listed in profiles on the FIE website with the term “armed forces athlete.”

The FIE decisions showed IOC criteria for the return of Russian and Belarusian athletes to be a “farce” and a “thinly veiled suspension” which amounted to discrimination, Pozdnyakov wrote in posts on the Telegram app.

“The International Olympic Committee is imposing such criteria that the participation of the overwhelming majority of our athletes and practically all of the leaders of the national teams in Olympic qualifying and other competitions is in practice unrealistic,” he added.

Pozdnyakov said he had spoken with the Russian fencing team and indicated that they supported boycotting competitions under the current conditions.

“The position is unanimous, our fencers will take part only if there are equal rights with athletes of other countries, without contrived or wrongful parameters and other artificial obstacle courses,” Pozdnyakov said.

There was also criticism from the Kremlin. Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, said Russia opposes restrictions on its athletes.

“We consider it absolutely wrong to try to apply conditions of some political requirements to athletes and their participation in international competitions,” Peskov said. “We do not agree with such recommendations.”

Fencing has a central place in Olympic politics because it is the sport of IOC president Thomas Bach, who was a gold medalist at the 1976 Montreal Games. Pozdnyakov himself won four Olympic gold medals in fencing, and his daughter won both the individual and team sabre gold medals in Tokyo.

A Russian boycott could smooth the way for Ukraine’s fencers to keep competing. The Ukrainian government and fencing team have a policy of not entering any events where Russian or Belarusian competitors are allowed.

The FIE’s earlier moves toward readmitting Russians and Belarusians led to a protest petition from top fencers from around the world against the plan. At least four competitions on the FIE’s World Cup circuit have also been called off by organizers unwilling to host Russian and Belarusian competitors.

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A ban on Russian athletes is lifted, but where are the Russians?

Russia Fencing

This week was supposed to mark the return of the first athletes from Russia and Belarus to be reinstated since the IOC updated its recommendations to international sports federations, providing a conditional path to partially lift bans in place since the invasion of Ukraine.

The International Fencing Federation (FIE) was the first Olympic sport body to act, actually doing so before the IOC’s update in March but not putting it into effect until the second half of April. (Other sports, including cycling, tennis and in the NHL, have been allowing Russians and Belarusians to compete since before the IOC update.)

Yet no Russians or Belarusians are entered in a sabre Grand Prix in Seoul that starts Thursday, not even as neutral athletes.

It is the sport’s first top-level competition in a month (after other national federations canceled events due to the reinstatement) and first top-level event during a year-long Olympic qualifying window that began April 3.

On Wednesday, Russian Fencing Federation president Ilgar Mamedov said that Russian fencers will not compete in Seoul because of “some bureaucratic snafus and foot-dragging” by the FIE, according to Russian news agency TASS.

“We did everything in due time, as they had instructed us previously,” Mamedov said, according to the report. “We repeatedly warned them, however, that it would be impossible for us to participate if they continued to drag the process out.

“We were assured, however, that everything was all right, that we should not worry and that we would be eligible by the deadline. However, we are now seeing the exact opposite result.”

The FIE has not responded to requests for comment over the last two months on its stance on Russian and Belarusian fencers.

Mamedov also said that the Russian Fencing Federation requested to strip the Seoul event of “qualifying points” — presumably Olympic qualifying points — since Russians are not taking part.

At the last two Olympics, women from Russia won gold and silver in individual sabre, plus gold in team sabre.

Fencers from Ukraine have been on the Seoul entry list for at least the last week. In late March, the Ukraine government said that its athletes should not take part in any Olympic qualifying competitions that allow Russians and Belarusians.

On Tuesday, the Ukraine Fencing Federation said it appealed to a court in Switzerland, where the FIE is based, to stop the FIE from readmitting Russians and Belarusians.

There are also no Russians yet on the entry lists for Grand Prix or World Cup events in the other weapons — épée and foil — next week in Colombia, Bulgaria and Mexico.

Russian fencers topped the Tokyo Olympic standings with eight medals and three golds, competing under the Russian Olympic Committee name rather than Russia due to the nation’s doping violations.

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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