The International Olympic Committee urged sports federations to show sensitivity when handling contests between Ukrainian athletes and Russians competing as neutrals, following Thursday’s disqualification of Ukraine’s Olha Kharlan at the World Fencing Championships.
Four-time sabre world champion Kharlan was disqualified in a decision labelled “absolutely shameful” by the Ukrainian presidency for not shaking the hand of her beaten Russian opponent Anna Smirnova, who was competing at the championships in Milan as a neutral.
Kharlan, 32, had only been given the green light to fight earlier in the day, after the Ukraine sports ministry changed its previous policy of barring athletes from facing Russians or Belarusians competing as neutrals.
The ministry’s change of tack reduced the chances of a boycott of the Paris Olympics.
“This decision will allow Ukrainian athletes to participate in international competitions and will enable them to qualify for the Olympic Games Paris 2024,” an IOC spokesperson told AFP.
“We are glad that they will be given this opportunity, and at the same time we are aware of the difficult inner conflicts they may have, given the aggression against their country.
“Therefore, we encourage international federations to handle situations involving Ukrainian and individual neutral athletes with the necessary degree of sensitivity.
“We continue to stand in full solidarity with the Ukrainian athletes and the Olympic community of Ukraine.”
From its own territory and that of Belarus, Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, four days after the closing ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Games, in violation of the Olympic truce and charter.
The IOC imposed sporting sanctions on Moscow and Minsk.
Kharlan was livid with the IOC and fencing’s governing body when Russians and Belarusians were permitted to start competing again, albeit as neutral athletes, earlier this year.
Fencing was the first sport to open its doors to them in March.
Tennis was one sport where Ukrainians had played Russians and Belarusians ever since the invasion.
They have, though, refused to shake hands.
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