War in Ukraine: fencing could reintegrate the Russians into its competitions this Friday
The International Fencing Federation (FIE) convened its 155 member federations on March 10 for an extraordinary online Congress, devoted to “decisions concerning athletes and officials from Russia and Belarus”, as well as to update the “Olympic qualification system”.
The combination of these two points owes nothing to chance: to be among the 212 saber fencers, foil fencers and swordsmen involved in the Paris 2024, the campaign starts on April 1st. With eight World Cup stages, a European Championship and a World Championship allowing them to accumulate points until March 31, 2024, before additional events by geographical area.
This complex system which leads to an individual and team ranking, makes collective performance particularly important: for each weapon and gender, the four best nations, as well as four others qualified by continent, can thus line up at the Olympic Games.
“Let the IOC position itself”
“In each team, there are three shooters and a substitute, and the three shooters participate in the competition individually”, specifies Bruno Gares, President of the French Fencing Federation (FFE) and member of the FIE Executive Committee. Quotas then make it possible to qualify two additional shooters by continent, gender and weapon. The imminence of the qualifications therefore prevents the FIE from keeping up with the pace of the IOC, which admittedly sketched out a roadmap in January allowing the reintegration of Russians and Belarusians into international competitions as “neutral” athletes, but without establishing calendar.
Faced with the outcry aroused in Europe by a possible return of the Russians to world sport, the Olympic body is for the time being increasing consultations behind closed doors, and moreover leaving it to the federations to decide which athletes are eligible for their competitions. “Why ask international federations to answer a question that the IOC should assume? (…) I want the IOC to position itself, and as quickly as possible”, urges Bruno Gares, tired of seeing the parent company of Olympism procrastinating. Left in the dark, while the IOC had issued at the end of February 2022 a clear “recommendation” for the exclusion of Russians and Belarusians in stride of the invasion of Ukrainethe FIE is therefore considering a gradual return of the banished.
An international federation led for 14 years by an oligarch
The questions submitted to the delegates of the federations on Friday have been carefully calibrated: it will be a question of allowing shooters from both countries to take part in individual and collective competitions from mid-April, under a neutral banner and “subject to possible future recommendations/decisions of the IOC”.
Clearly, deciphers Bruno Gares, “if the FIE approves, they will be able to resume the championships in the territories where they are authorized the visa, but it is the IOC which will have to decide whether or not they will do the Games”.
Friday’s vote will identify positions on the fate of Russian and Belarusian athletes, which divides both the political world and the sports world: hostility to their return comes mainly from Europe, but the Olympic Council of Asia has already proposed to reinstate them, and the African Olympic Committees voted last Saturday for their participation in Paris-2024.
Fencing adds an additional factor to this geopolitical balance of power: that of Russian influence within the bodies, since the FIE was led for 14 years by the oligarch Alicher Ousmanov, who left the interim to the Greek Emmanuel Katsiadakis.