— Published 12 May 2023

The Russians are not planning to return

Paradox. Fencing was the first summer Olympic sport to vote for a back for Russian and Belarusian athletes in international competitions. Its international federation, the FIE, voted to do so in early March. But the discipline could be one of the last to see competitors from both countries actually take part in its events. The president of the Russian Olympic Committee, former sabre fencer Stanislav Pozdniakov, announced on Thursday (11 May) on his Telegram account that fencers will not return to the international scene in the “format proposed” by the IOC, namely under the guise of neutrality. “With regard to fencing in particular, I have discussed the proposed back format with members of the national team on several occasions,” he wrote. And I can say that none of them have considered and are considering the option of competing in international tournaments under the existing restrictions. This is in fact a poorly disguised exclusion toolbox, not to mention the discrimination and double standards still applied on the basis of nationality.” According to Russian Fencing Federation president Ilgar Mamedov, four Olympic gold medallists, including the three sabre fencers who won the Tokyo 2020 Games in the team event – Sofya Velikaya, Olga Nikitina and Sofia Pozdniakova – are not on the FIE’s list of athletes eligible to compete in international events, including the world championships in July in Milan. They have been identified as members of CSKA, a Russian army club. As a reminder, the IOC Executive Board recommended at the end of March that the international federations reinstate Russian and Belarusian athletes, but only in an individual capacity, under neutral status, provided they have never expressed any support for the conflict in Ukraine and are not employed by the military or a national security agency. The first World Cup fencing events of the season, qualifying for the Paris 2024 Games, were held without Russian athletes. The next ones, scheduled for this weekend for women’s sabre in Georgia and men’s sabre in Spain, have not recorded any Russian presence.