August 6, 2023

Russian athletes are once again showing disrespect and officials are doing nothing about it

Sofiya Tkachenko in Oxford, United Kingdom

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Olga Kharlan and Anna Smirnova at the Fencing World Championships in Milan, July 27

Picture by: Fencing Vision | Youtube

Disrespect towards Ukrainians from Russians is an everyday occurrence everywhere in the world and this time it was present at an international sports arena.

Olga Kharlan, a renowned Ukrainian fencer, was disqualified from the Fencing World Championships in Milan, Italy on Thursday, July 27, after refusing to shake hands with her Russian contender, Anna Smirnova, which is just another sign of complete disrespect from the Russian people.

After the match, which Olga rightfully won with the score being 15-7, Anna tried to approach Olga with the traditional handshake that is mandatory after a match. Olga refused to shake hands with the Russian athlete, but offered to tap blades with sabres instead. The Russian refused, but it was still approved by the judges and she progressed to the next round.

After Olga walked away and refused to shake hands, Anna took the opportunity to stage a protest against the Ukrainian and refused to leave the field for 45 minutes, until the Ukrainian was disqualified.

Though Anna was competing under a neutral banner, in her social media she has expressed support for the Russian army on a few occasions in the current invasion.

A day after the said situation occurred the disqualification of the fencer was reversed and Olga was guaranteed an Olympic spot at the 2024 Paris Olympics by the International Fencing Committee (FIE). As well as FIE officially removed the mandatory handshake rule after the conflict occurred between the fencers.

The rules of the FIE state that ‘the two fencers must shake hands once the result is given’ and that failure to do this can result in a ‘black card’, or disqualification.

Olga later spoke on her decision and said that she had asked FIE Interim President Emmanuel Katsiadakis whether she would be allowed to blade touch instead of the traditional handshake and was given an affirmative answer, which allowed Olga to tap blades.

It is also important to state that Anna competed under a ‘neutral banner’, meaning athletes are able to compete as individuals and not represent their country, which for years has been a way for Russians to compete despite many restrictions and sanctions upon the country‘s athletes.

With the full-scale invasion that started on February 24, 2022, it is still a shock to a lot of Ukrainian athletes, as well as Ukrainians in general, that Russians are able to compete in championships, under these false pretences.

Though the athletes were able to compete, the Ukrainian Sports Ministry previously issued a policy that barred Ukrainian athletes from competing in matches against Russian or Belarusian opponents, even if they competed as neutrals. Olga herself has spoken against this policy and on July 26, the policy was changed. The changes allowed Ukrainian athletes to compete with sportsmen who competed under a neutral banner, which in consequence allowed the match to happen.

It may seem like banning professional athletes from countries such as Russia from such tournaments is too harsh at first, as it is their whole life and their entire career. But because of the full-scale invasion many Ukrainian athletes are now on the battlefields and will not be able to compete for some time or have died, which in comparison to banning Russians from competing is not even on the same level..

More than 260 Ukrainian athletes have died since the start of the full-scale invasion, including pistol shooter Ivan Bidnya, MMA (mixed martial arts) athlete Yegor Birkun and American football player Oleksandr Anikin. Many more have no chance of competing ever again, while Russian athletes are finding ways to slip through the cracks of laws and policies to continue their careers, whilst not using their platform following to protest the war.

This situation not only shows how the Russian athletes, who are able to continue competing, not minding ethics, but using the tournaments as another way to show their utter disrespect for the situation in the world. Anna not only refused to walk away, but demanded Olga‘s disqualification with a sit-down boycott.

With the Paris 2024 Olympics coming up we may see similar situations, as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has recommended to allow individuals holding Russian and Belarussian passports to compete independently. In answer to which the Ukrainian government announced that its athletes should boycott the said competition if this will not change, though without any official statement.

This situation just once again proves that Russian athletes should be banned from sports competitions completely until the war in Ukraine ends.

Written by:


Sofiya Tkachenko

former Editor-in-chief

Kyiv, Ukraine | Vienna, Austria

Born in 2006, Sofiya is originally from Kyiv, Ukraine, but now, because of the war, she has relocated to Vienna, Austria. She is interested in writing about culture and politics, especially the current situation in Ukraine and the world as a whole, but is planning on studying Biology in Vienna next year. 

Sofiya joined Harbingers’ Magazine as a contributor in the spring of 2022. A few months later, she took on the role of the social media and the Harbingers’ Weekly Brief newsletter editor. After half a year, her devotion and hard work promoted her to the position of editor-in-chief of the magazine – in September 2023, she took the helm from Sofia Radysh, who stepped down having completed her one-year term.

In her spare time, Sofiya organises charity poetry events and is working on multiple projects regarding the promotion of Ukrainian culture in Europe.

She speaks Ukrainian, English, Russian, and a bit of German.



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