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Ukraine’s Kharlan disqualified for handshake refusal

Ukraine's Olga Kharlan refuses to shake hands with Russian Anna Smirnova
Ukraine’s Olga Kharlan offered her sabre when Russian Anna Smirnova approached for a handshake

Ukrainian fencer Olga Kharlan has been disqualified for refusing to shake hands with Russian Anna Smirnova at the World Fencing Championships.

Kharlan, the first fencer to take to the piste against a Russian or Belarussian since the former’s invasion of her homeland, won 15-7 in Milan.

The 32-year-old rejected Smirnova’s handshake afterwards, instead offering her sabre to tap blades.

It led to an appeal from Smirnova, who staged a 45-minute sit-down protest.

The Russian, competing under a neutral flag, remained stood on the piste following the first-round contest before being handed a chair as her protest continued.

Russian Anna Smirnova stages a protest
Anna Smirnova refused to leave the piste and was handed a chair as her protest continued

Her appeal looked to have been dismissed, with Kharlan still showing as through to the last 32 when Smirnova eventually walked off after being spoken to by an official, allowing the next bout to start.

However, the results later showed that Kharlan, a four-time individual world champion and four-time Olympic medallist, had been disqualified from the women’s sabre individual.

In fencing, shaking hands is part of the rules of the sport and refusal to do so results in a black card and expulsion.

Kharlan’s scheduled last-32 opponent, Bulgaria’s Yoanna Ilieva, advanced as a result.

Ukrainian fencers have not competed where rivals from Russia and Belarus have been permitted to enter as neutral athletes since Russia’s invasion in February 2022.

However, the Ukrainian government updated its position on Wednesday, granting permission for its athletes to compete against Russians and Belarusians who participate as neutrals, as is the case at the World Fencing Championships.

Kharlan’s Ukrainian team-mate – Tokyo 2020 bronze medallist Igor Reizlin – was scheduled to take to the piste against Russian Vadim Anokhin on Wednesday but did not present himself, subsequently forfeiting.

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