Sport

Fencing-Russian and Belarusian fencers cleared to compete after vote

Russian and Belarusian fencers will be allowed to compete in International Fencing Federation (FIE) events after the matter was put to a vote at its Extraordinary Congress on Friday.

Athletes from the two countries were banned from many international competitions after Russia launched what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine. Belarus has been a key staging area for Moscow’s invasion.

But in January, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had set out a path for athletes from the two countries to earn slots for the Olympics through Asian qualifying and to compete as neutrals, with some federations now allowing them back.

At the FIE’s Extraordinary Congress, more than 60 per cent of nations voted in favour, which will allow Russians and Belarusians to compete at July’s World Fencing Championships in Milan.

The Russian Olympic Committee team won three gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics, topping the table with eight medals overall.

USA Fencing CEO Phil Andrews said they were “disappointed, frustrated and disturbed” but not surprised at the outcome of Friday’s vote.

“Today’s ‘yes’ vote by more than 80 delegates, while not a direct endorsement of Russia’s war, does send a message to the world that a majority of the international fencing community is ready to look the other way and welcome back fencers funded by and supported by the Russian government,” Andrews said.

“Some of these fencers have direct ties to the military, and many have not publicly condemned the atrocities of their government.”

Andrews added that the vote came just over 100 days after 77 per cent of the members voted to extend the ban.

“What has changed in those 104 days? Many will speculate, but one thing is painfully clear: Russia has not ended its unlawful and immoral assault on Ukraine,” Andrews added.

“An invasion that has resulted in thousands of senseless deaths, an unprecedented refugee crisis and the destruction of Ukraine‚Äôs sporting infrastructure, notably including the evacuation of its fencing athletes.”

Athletes may also be allowed to compete under the flags of Russia and Belarus, but that is subject to IOC recommendations.

IOC president Thomas Bach is a former fencer who won gold at the 1976 Montreal Games.

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