Fencing World Championships: scandal over a handshake

Sport in the shadow of war: the Ukrainian fencer Olga Kharlan refused to shake hands with her Russian adversary Anna Smirnova, who was competing as a neutral athlete at the Fencing World Championships in Milan - and was disqualified. Later the fencing federation FIE backpedalled. Kharlan was readmitted to the team competition - and the handshake is no longer obligatory.

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Der Standard (AT) /

No to coerced peace gestures

Russian athletes should remain excluded until the end of the war, Der Standard insists:

“It is a morally uncomfortable question of whether athletes from a warring state should be punished for the madness of their president. Why should Vasily, an ordinary athlete who has dedicated his entire life to the Olympics, bear the burden of it? ... The 23-year-old Smirnova may not drive a tank, but she proudly poses on Instagram with her brother dressed in full army gear. The people in Ukraine are affected by this war in a way that some privileged sports officials cannot comprehend - or choose not to, considering [IOC President Thomas] Bach's proximity to Russia. Forcing Ukrainians into a duel with Russians is reprehensible. Coercing them into making peace gestures is beyond acceptable.”

The Spectator (GB) /

Not neutral in the least

For The Spectator the formal neutral status of Russian athletes is fraudulent at best:

“Many Russian athletes are financially supported by the country's Defense Ministry, hold military ranks or actively promote the Kremlin's propaganda. Competing under a neutral flag doesn't imply neutrality; it merely grants access to a world that has excluded Russia since the full-scale invasion. Ukrainians are mindful that the war effort is dependent on these boycotts surviving: workarounds (such as the neutral flag) have wider implications. Russia invaded Crimea, after all, with troops who were not wearing the national flag - or any flag, for that matter.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

Our hand must remain outstretched

For the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung refusing the handshake is problematic:

“Those who are willing to spare with a Russian opponent and show respect in doing so, as seen recently at the Fencing World Championship, should also display the magnanimity of the customary concluding handshake. ... It should also be remembered that not every Russian can be equated with Putin. Not only because eventually we will have to interact with each other again, but also because we must remain humane amidst the aggression and killings. Ukraine demonstrates this on the battlefield: captives are generally treated according to humanitarian international law. Given the Kremlin's disregard in this respect, our hand must remain extended to every individual.”

Echo (RU) /

Both fencers showed strength

Radio journalist Lisa Laserson shows understanding for both athletes in a Telegram post republished by Echo:

“The Ukrainian held her sabre out in front of her instead of shaking hands. The Russian did not give up and stayed to wait for the intended handshake. ... One can understand the Ukrainian woman's feelings. But perhaps another factor is at play here. The presidium of the Ukrainian fencing federation banned athletes from 'any actions that can be perceived as a manifestation of solidarity' with the Russians and Belarusians competing under a neutral status. A defeated Russian woman standing for an hour with her hand stretched out for a handshake is very telling. Both athletes deserve sympathy.”