Ukrainian fencer Olha Kharlan was awarded a place in the 2024 Paris Olympics by the IOC on Friday after she was disqualified at the world championships for refusing to shake the hand of her Russian opponent.

The International Fencing Federation (FIE) also said it was reinstating Kharlan, allowing her to take part in the team competition at the world championships in Milan.

Emmanuel Katsiadakis, the Greek president of the FIE, said the decision had been taken "after consultation with the International Olympic Committee".

Kharlan, the first fencer to face a Russian or Belarusian since the former's invasion of Ukraine, won 15-7 against Russia's Anna Smirnova on Thursday.

The 32-year-old four-time Olympic medallist refused Smirnova's handshake afterwards, instead offering her sabre to tap blades, but FIE rules state that the two fencers must shake hands.


Smirnova staged a 45-minute protest and refused to leave the competition strip.

Kharlan was disqualified, claiming afterwards that Emmanuel Katsiadakis, the Greek president of the FIE, had even assured her that it was "possible" not to shake hands and offer a touch of her blade instead following her victory.

"I thought I had his word, to be safe, but apparently, no," Kharlan said.

In response to her disqualification, the International Olympic Committee called for Ukrainian athletes to be treated "sensitively".

Then on Friday, IOC President Thomas Bach, a former Olympic fencer himself, sent Kharlan a letter saying she would be guaranteed a place at next year's Olympics in Paris regardless of whether she gained the qualification points.

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The IOC in December suspended Russia from the 2024 Games, but gave the green light for Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as neutrals as long as they do not actively support the war on Ukraine

"As a fellow fencer, it is impossible for me to imagine how you feel at this moment," Bach wrote.

"Given your unique situation, the International Olympic Committee will allocate an additional quota place to you for the Olympic Games Paris 2024 in case you will not be able to qualify in the remaining period."

Bach added: "Rest assured that the IOC will continue to stand in full solidarity with the Ukrainian athletes and the Olympic community of Ukraine during these extremely difficult times."


- Russian anger -

The decision to allocate Kharlan a place in the Olympics is sure to provoke an angry reaction from Russia.

Earlier Friday, the head of Russia's Olympic Committee accused the IOC of picking sides after it urged sports federations to show sensitivity towards Ukrainian athletes.

"The statement in question indicates that the IOC determined for itself and picked a side in the political conflict, (and) began to act in the interests of this side," Stanislav Pozdnyakov said on Telegram.

According to Pozdnyakov, these remarks "clearly showed the duplicity of the so-called recommendations, criteria and parameters.

"Now we have been involuntarily but clearly shown the attitude which absolutely any Russian will face at international competitions".

Since Russia launched its offensive in Ukraine, the IOC imposed sporting sanctions on Moscow and its ally Minsk, but earlier this year it recommended that Russian and Belarusian athletes could compete as individuals in qualifying events under a neutral flag and with no anthem.

The decision provoked howls of protest from both the Ukrainian government and criticism from their athletes for placing the human rights of Russian athletes above theirs.


This resulted in Ukraine barring their athletes from competing at events where Russians and Belarusians were present -- tennis being the exception as players in that sport compete as individuals.

The IOC has not yet made a decision on whether Russians and Belarusians and can take part in the Paris Olympics as neutral competitors.

Ukraine's Sports Minister Vadym Gutzeit hailed the IOC's decision to give Kharlan an Olympics place.

On Facebook he said: "Despite all the hate that I personally and my team have experienced in these 24 hours, working hard for Ukrainian athletes and not responding to it, we have already achieved the first result.

"We are working on removing the black card for Olga's further competitions and preventing similar situations in other sports."

Kharlan is only taking part in the world championships after the Ukraine sports ministry changed its previous policy of barring athletes from facing Russian or Belarusian competitors.

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Comments ( 1)
Joe Swanson
This comment contains spoilers. Click here if you want to read.

Seems Emmanuel Katsiadakis has some explaining to do.
Let's all just ignore Smirnova's brother is actively serving in the russian army taking part in the mass murder / genocide of Ukrainians and Smirnova herself wears a hat with a star...based on the red star which is a hate symbol and that the FIE president, up to recently, was a...russian named Alisher Usmanov...YET russia and russians are the victim.