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Fencing body votes to lift ban on Russia, Belarus athletes


Tokyo , Japan - 24 July 2021; A general view during the Women’s Épée Individual Semi-Final at Makuhari Messe Hall during the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Sportsfile via Getty Images

The International Fencing Federation (FIE) voted to lift its ban on fencers from Russia and Belarus next month.

In an extraordinary congress, 89 out of 136 FIE delegates from 136 different national federations voted to reinstate fencers from Russia and Belarus into international competition starting in the second half of April.

The reinstatement is “subject to possible future IOC recommendations/decisions, and in compliance with conditions of neutrality and individual eligibility,” according to a USA Fencing list of questions that were voted on.

It is unclear if the ban will be lifted while the IOC is still recommending athletes from Russia and Belarus be banned across Olympic sports. The FIE has not commented on the vote, but the U.S., British and Ukrainian federations all issued statements indicating that they expect Friday’s vote will result in reinstatement.

It is also unclear if the Russia and Belarus fencers would return as “neutral” athletes without their flags and anthems.

“There was no definition of neutrality given within the proposals by the FIE, and the IOC has yet to make its recommendations in this regard,” according to British Fencing.

The IOC has recommended to international sports federations since last February that athletes from Russia and Belarus be banned from international competition following the invasion of Ukraine. The vast majority of federations followed that recommendation.

While the IOC has in recent months looked for possible ways that Russia and Belarus athletes could be reinstated in the future, it has not shifted from its recommendation.

Before Friday’s congress, USA Fencing announced that it planned to vote “no” on all questions of reinstatement for fencers and officials from Russia and Belarus.

“As long as this war continues, our stance on the participation of athletes from these countries must not change,” USA Fencing CEO Phil Andrews said in a Thursday press release. “Allowing the participation of those from these nations in any form, even under a so-called neutral status while still being funded by and supported by the Russian government is unacceptable. We look forward to a time when we can welcome our Russian colleagues back to the piste in peace, but that time is not today.”

Andrews issued another statement after Friday’s congress.

“USA Fencing is disappointed, frustrated and disturbed — though not all that surprised — at the outcome of today’s vote, wherein more than 62% of nations voted to allow fencers and officials from Russia and Belarus to return to international fencing competition,” he said. “This vote comes just over 100 days after 77% of the members of this same body 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 — an invasion that has resulted in thousands of senseless deaths, an unprecedented refugee crisis and the destruction of Ukraine’s sporting infrastructure, notably including the evacuation of its fencing athletes.”

Russian fencers topped the Tokyo Olympic standings with eight medals and three golds, competing under the Russian Olympic Committee name. Belarus, which has zero Olympic fencing medals, had no fencers at the Tokyo Games and one fencer at the Rio Games.

The FIE is believed to be the first international federation recognized by the IOC to vote to lift its ban on athletes from Russia and Belarus.

In October, the International Boxing Association (IBA) lifted its ban on amateur boxers from Russia and Belarus, but the IOC stripped that organization of its Olympic recognition in 2019 following an inquiry committee report into finance, governance, refereeing and judging.

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