Ukraine’s top fencer disqualified from world championships after refusing to shake hands with Russian opponent

The leader of Ukraine’s national fencing team, Olga Kharlan, has been disqualified from participating in the world championships after she refused to shake hands with Anna Smirnova, who is from Russia.

Kharlan had just beaten Smirnova at the tournament in Milan, but rather than shake hands the Ukrainian offered her sabre to tap blades. Smirnova then walked away before staging a sit-down protest for about 45 minutes.

Smirnova was competing as an individual neutral athele as official Russian participation in such tournaments is outlawed.

Ukrainian Sports Minister, Vadym Guttsait, said on Facebook that he was proud of Kharlan, adding: “Your performance is an example of strength, will and love for Ukraine! Stay strong! The main victory of the country and yours will come soon.”

Kharlan is a four-time individual world champion and four-time Olympic medallist.

Mikhailo Ilyashev, President of the Ukrainian Fencing Federation, told Ukrainian television that Ukraine would protest the decision, saying the referee had not disqualified Kharlan, who was banned later.

“We hope that this (appeal) will be completed in a few days. But it’s out of the question for her to be returned to this competition. In this case, we will ensure that this black card is cancelled, because it is a disqualification that will entail the impossibility of her competing in the team competition.”

He said Kharlan’s disqualification would make it more difficult for her to qualify for the Olympics and it was “very important for us that this disqualification is lifted before the team competition, because she is very strong and without her, it is unlikely that our team will be able to go far and score many points in this competition.”

The International Fencing Federation has not offered any account of the decision on its website or social media accounts. But the refusal to shake hands after a contest results in a black card and expulsion, according to federation rules.

The issue of Ukrainians and Russians not shaking hands in sport is not confined to fencing – Ukrainian tennis star Marta Kostyuk, who is from Kyiv, said at the start of the year that she would not shake hands with Russian or Belarusian players while the war rages in her country, along with Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko.

Kostyuk was booed at the French Open when she refused to meet Belarus’ Aryna Sabalenka at the net. Sabalenka condemned the booing and said she understands why Ukrainian players won’t shake her hand.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian tennis player Elina Svitolina took to Twitter to support Kharlan, writing: “We are not shaking hands with Russian and Belarusian athletes. That is our position! I call on international sports organisations and federations to respect our decision!”

She added that “All our love and respect goes to @olgakharlan.”

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