Protestors number in the hundreds as fencers stand against Russian participation.

Hundreds of fencers from around the world have gathered to protest against the decision to allow Russian fencers to compete at international tournaments despite the ongoing doping scandal. The demonstrations took place outside the fencing world cup event in Budapest, Hungary, with protesters calling for stronger action against Russia and a ban on their athletes from competing in any events. The controversy surrounding Russian sportspeople has been ongoing since 2015, when a World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) investigation uncovered state-sponsored doping among athletes across numerous sports. As the dispute continues, the fencing community is taking a stand against what they see as unfair treatment of clean athletes.

Over 300 fencers, including nine medalists from the last Olympics, have signed an open letter requesting that the sport’s governing body, the International Fencing Federation (FIE), and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), not allow Russian fencers to compete while the war in Ukraine continues. The FIE voted this month to allow fencers from Russia and its ally Belarus to return to international competitions in April to qualify for next year’s Olympics in Paris. The athletes and civil society across the globe have called out the FIE for not taking proper care of athletes, especially for Ukrainians, by completely banning Russia and Belarus. The FIE’s decision of choosing Russian and Belarusian interests over the rights of athletes, particularly Ukrainian athletes, is seen as a failure to support the very people their organizations are meant to support, according to the open letter organised by advocacy groups Athleten Deutschland and Global Athlete.

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The IOC had recommended excluding Russian and Belarusian athletes on security grounds last year following Russia’s invasion, but in recent times has sought to create a pathway for their return to competition. The fencers who have signed the letter include Lee Kiefer of the U.S., Olympic gold medalist in women’s foil, French men’s team foil gold medalist Erwann Le Péchoux, and four-time Olympic medalist from Ukraine, Olga Kharlan. FIE President Alisher Usmanov suspended himself from his duties following the invasion, after he was placed under European Union sanctions. The open letter was published on the same day as the IOC board met to discuss setting new recommendations for sports bodies 16 months before the opening of the Paris Games.

In conclusion, the hundreds of fencers who recently protested against the decision to allow Russian fencers to compete in international events have certainly made their voices heard. They voiced their concerns about the ongoing doping scandal involving Russian athletes and how it not only affects fairness in competition, but also tarnishes the reputation of the sport. Despite the decision to allow Russian fencers to compete, it is clear that many in the fencing community are not willing to compromise on the integrity and values of the sport. Only time will tell if their efforts will truly make a difference, but it is reassuring to see the passion and dedication of those who truly care about what fencing stands for.

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