Ukrainian fencer Olga Kharlan was disqualified from the World Fencing Championships for refusing to shake hands with a Russian competing under a neutral flag.
Kharlan triumphed over the Russian Anna Smirnova with a score of 15:7. According to the rules of the International Fencing Federation, the athletes greet each other with a handshake after matches. However, the Ukrainian refused to shake hands with Smirnova and tapped her blade instead. The Russian ignored Kharlan and staged a 50-minute protest – she remained on the fencing track, demanding the winner’s disqualification due to “disrespect.”
“We realized that the country that terrorizes our state, our people, our families, also terrorizes sports. … One can never force anyone into peace, especially Ukrainians. Never. No handshakes. Never. Therefore, it will always be like this. And I, probably, like everyone in this world, an adequate world, understand that the rules have to change. Because the world is changing. But what I feel from all of you cannot be expressed in words. Thanks to everyone, I feel everything. You are in my heart. Glory to Ukraine,” Kharlan said.
Eventually, the International Fencing Federation disqualified Olga Kharlan, removing her from participating in the remaining parts of the tournament and for the next 60 days of the active season.
After the match, the judges awarded the victory to Kharlan, and the organizers of the championship decided to punish the Ukrainian with disqualification, Vadym Gutzeit, the Minister of Youth and Sports of Ukraine, says.
“We saw a provocation by an athlete under a neutral flag. We saw what she was doing: specifically provocation against Olga Kharlan. She came up, made a provocation, held her hand for a long time, and waited,” Vadym Gutzeit said.
Ukraine warned the International Fencing Federation about refusing to shake hands with athletes from Russia. However, on July 26, the organization canceled the possibility of greeting by just touching a fencing weapon.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba, called on the International Fencing Federation to cancel the decision and allow Olga Kharlan to continue competing at the World Championships.
“Olga Kharlan won the fair competition and showed dignity. I urge the International Fencing Federation to restore Kharlan’s rights and allow her to compete,” the minister wrote.
At the same time, Mykhailo Podolyak, Adviser to the head of the Office of the President, tweeted a photo of Anna Smirnova in a Russian officer’s winter cap. Next to the fencer was a young man in a military uniform.
“As you can see, she openly admires the Russian army, which is killing Ukrainians and destroying our cities. The International Fencing Federation disqualified the Ukrainian representative for not shaking hands with the Russian. The International Fencing Federation, should this be taken as a position? Doesn’t Russian money smell of blood?” Podolyak wrote.
Ukrainian tennis player Elina Svitolina also supported Olga Kharlan. “We are not shaking hands with Russian and Belarusian athletes. That is our position! I call on international sports organizations and federations to respect our decision! All our love and respect goes to Olga Kharlan,” Svitolina wrote on Instagram.
Currently, Ukraine is appealing the International Fencing Federation’s decision.