The rebellion against the decision by the International Fencing Federation (FIE) to reintegrate Russians and Belarusians into Olympic qualifying grew on Wednesday with the cancellation of the women’s World Cup event in Poznan, Poland.
“We cannot organise this event under the FIE conditions” which “impose” welcoming Russian athletes, Adam Konopka, vice-president of the Polish Fencing Federation (PFSz), told AFP.
On Sunday, the Russian fencing federation president Ilgar Mamedov was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying the country’s fencers would not be going to the event because they would have been subject to “provocative conditions”.
These included Russian and Belarusian athletes having to sign a statement saying “they do not support the war in Ukraine”.
On Wednesday, Mamedov said the Poles had had to cancel the event because the conditions they had laid down had not been in line with the demands of the international federation.
“It is important that nobody interferes with our athletes appearing,” he told TASS.
“If obstacles are put in their way, then these events cannot be organised on an even footing for everybody.
“As a consequence, these competitions will be cancelled.”
Fencing — in which IOC president Thomas Bach won a team gold for West Germany in the 1976 Montreal Olympics — has been in turmoil since the FIE declared last month that the sport’s powerhouses Russia could return.
FIE president Emmanuel Katsiadakis took over on an interim basis in March 2022 when Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov stood down after the invasion of Ukraine.
Belarus, who are allies of Russia, were also invited back.
The head of European fencing called Wednesday’s news from Warsaw “worrying”.
“The situation can’t go on like this,” European Fencing Confederation president Giorgio Scarso told AFP.
“It raises questions when federations which wrote the history of fencing like Germany, France and Poland, cancel competitions,” he added.
The FIE preempted last week’s recommendation by the IOC to readmit Russian and Belarusian athletes — largely banned since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.
This opens the way for them to qualify for the Olympics — although no decision has been taken as to whether they will be able to compete.
The FIE and Bach were subject to a hard-hitting letter last Tuesday signed by over 300 present and past fencers accusing them of placing Russian interests above those of the Ukrainians.
“It should make one think when 300 leading athletes put their name to a petition opposing a decision,” Scarso said.
The cancelled event, in Poznan on April 21-24, would have been the opening round of the women’s World Cup. Germany had already cancelled a later qualifier for next year’s Paris Olympics.
There remain only three women’s events where qualifying standards can be achieved.
One of those is in the Georgian city of Batumi on May 12-13, and that has the green light from the hosts.
“The event will take place as planned,” Georgia’s fencing federation chair Merab Bazadze told AFP.
“In case Russian and Belarussian athletes opt to come to Batumi — something we are not in a position to forbid — they will have to compete without their national flags and anthems.”
The men’s World Cup has also been affected with France cancelling May’s World Cup leg in Saint-Maur-des-Fosses — it too was to be an Olympic qualifier.
Sweden and Finland have cancelled international fencing events later in the year rather than host Russian athletes.
The Poles have been one of Ukraine’s staunchest allies since the Russian invasion and President Andrzej Duda took a swipe at Bach at a ceremony on Monday celebrating the European Games which Poland are hosting.
Russia and Belarus have been barred from the Games, which run from June 21 to July 2.
“As the host of the European Games I will be able to look in the eye of (Ukrainian) President Volodymyr Zelensky and tell him: ‘Volodymyr, these Games are going to be the Games of peace and the Games of calm with no pretence, with no imitation that everything is all right.”