They were excluded a year ago, because of the war in Ukraine... The fencing world approved the return to competition of Russian and Belarusian athletes on Friday at an extraordinary congress of the International Fencing Federation (FIE), a year and a half before the Paris Olympics.

Russian and Belarusian shooters will therefore be able to take part in the events of the world circuit, qualifying for the 2024 Olympic Games, which begin in early April, without prejudice to their participation in the event.

The last word at the IOC?

Fencing thus becomes the first sport to reintegrate athletes from Russia and Belarus under a neutral banner.

The FIE's decision, which concerns individual and team events, still leaves the hand to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) since it will be effective from April "subject to possible future recommendations/decisions of the IOC", we learned from a national federation that participated in the extraordinary congress.

FIE members, meeting at an extraordinary congress in Lausanne on Friday, voted by about 65% in favour of the return of athletes, teams and officials from both countries, according to the source who did not wish to be identified.

"The first step is taken. I am grateful to the colleagues of foreign federations," Ilgar Mamedov, president of the Russian Fencing Federation, was quoted as saying by the Ria Novosti news agency. "There is only one reserve, reintegration will not happen until mid-April," he said.

Despite opposition from the Ukrainian Federation

Before this vote, the Ukrainian Fencing Federation had made a request to exclude from the agenda the topic of the reinstatement of Russian and Belarusian athletes, but its request did not receive the necessary votes among the 136 voters.

The international body had to position itself due to the imminent start of the qualifying phase for the Paris Olympics, which will run until spring 2024, 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 results in individual and team classification, makes collective performance particularly important: for each weapon (sabre, foil and épée) and gender, the four best nations, as well as four others qualified per continent, can line up at the Olympic Games.

The Russian shooters, among the best in the world, had won three gold medals (eight in total) at the Tokyo Olympics, while competing under the banner of the Russian Olympic Committee.

A federation under Russian influence?

The world ranking is therefore for the moment turned upside down by the absence of some of its biggest names, who will have the opportunity to reposition themselves before the Paris Olympic meeting in the summer of 2024, if the IOC authorizes their arrival.

Their return to competition is a first step towards the participation of both delegations in the Games, while the hostility to their return comes mainly from Europe.

The Olympic Council of Asia has already proposed reinstating them, and the African Olympic Committees voted last Saturday for their participation in the Paris Olympics, while the IOC's position remains unclear, a year after a clear "recommendation" to exclude Russians and Belarusians in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.

Fencing adds to this geopolitical balance of power an additional factor: that of Russian influence within the bodies, since the FIE was led for 14 years by the oligarch Alisher Usmanov, who a year ago left the interim to the Greek Emmanuel Katsiadakis.

  • Sport
  • War in Ukraine
  • Fencing
  • Russia
  • Paris 2024 Olympics
  • Olympic Games