Fencing has been mobilized since the International Federation (FIE) allowed Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate in the international events it organizes, a measure that will take effect in mid-April.
As a result of this situation, more than 300 shooters signed a letter addressed to Emmanuel Katsiadakis, interim president of the FIE, and Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), in which they made clear their position against the decision approved by the Extraordinary Congress: “With total disregard for the voices of the athletes, it has allowed both Russia and Belarus to participate again in FIE competitions, as well as in a tournament presumed to be organized on Russian soil.”
“Russia’s aggression violates not only the norms of international law but also the fundamental values of Olympism, including peace, the harmonious development of humanity and respect for human dignity and human rights. As long as Russia’s war of aggression continues, with the help of Belarus, both athletes and officials from these countries must remain excluded from world sports,” the letter continues.
The FIE decision will allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to participate in the World Championship to be held in July in the city of Milan, as well as in the qualifiers for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. Some countries, such as Germany, which gave up organizing the World Cup in Tauberbischofsheim, have already announced that they will not carry out their competitions due to the inclusion of athletes from these two countries
“Given the recent escalation of attacks against the Ukrainian civilian population, there should be no reason at this time to allow the reintegration of Russia and Belarus into world sport. Integration would set a precedent in which a nation can violate the values and norms of sports and international peace without fear of consequences”, highlights the letter signed by 323 shooters (eight did so anonymously).
In the statement, the athletes also emphasize a situation that began to be brought to the table from the moment the possibility of Russians and Belarusians competing as neutrals began to be mentioned: participation in the army and funding.
“Not only have Russian athletes been encouraged to fight in the war by the Russian Olympic Committee, with a large majority of them occupying military and police posts, but they are also beneficiaries of State funding,” the letter notes, stating that “athletes have been and will be exploited for the propaganda of (Vladimir) Putin. Competing under a neutral flag has not proven to be an adequate sanctioning instrument in the past and it is not now.”
The letter also refers to the 232 athletes killed during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as to the destruction of the facilities and the exodus to which many athletes were forced. “The FIE is not fulfilling its duty to take care of athletes, especially Ukrainians. Athletes and civil society around the world are criticizing their insufficient leadership to completely ban Russia and Belarus. It has chosen Russian and Belarusian interests over the rights of athletes, in particular Ukrainian ones, and in doing so, it is not supporting the same people that their organizations should support,” they say.
The International Fencing Federation (FIE) has been chaired since 2008 by the Russian Alisher Usmanov, who in 2022 left office because he was one of the 26 magnates sanctioned by the European Union for the invasion of Ukraine. The Greek Katsiadakis took command on an interim basis.
Russian shooters are among the best in the world, they participated in the last Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games under the name of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) and dominated the medal table by winning eight medals: three gold, four silver and one bronze.
“This atrocious and unprovoked war and its violation of the Olympic Truce cannot be ignored or rewarded. Returning to business as usual would be a catastrophic mistake and, therefore, we again urge you to maintain the suspensions in Russia and Belarus,” the letter closes. Will there be a turning back?