A day after four-time Olympic medalist Olga Kharlan was disqualified from the 2023 Fencing World Championships for refusing to shake hands with her Russian opponent, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has now guaranteed her place in the 2024 Olympic Games.
IOC president Thomas Bach said in a letter addressed to the decorated Ukrainian athlete that the committee will make the “unique exception” after her disqualification hindered her chance to earn more ranking points that feed into Olympic qualification.
“Given your unique situation, the International Olympic Committee will allocate an additional quota place to you for the Olympic Games Paris 2024 in case you will not be able to qualify in the remaining period,” the letter read.
“We make this unique exception also because the ongoing procedures will in no case make up for the qualification points you missed because of your disqualification.”
Kharlan defeated Russian Anna Smirnova, who was competing as a neutral athlete, 15-7, in the women’s individual sabre on Thursday.
Kharlan, 32, did not shake Smirnova’s hand as is mandated by the International Fencing Federation (FIE), but instead offered her blade, a gesture which replaced the handshake rule during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Smirnova, 23, offered her hand, and after a brief standoff, Kharlan walked off to celebrate her victory.
Under the FIE’s most updated rules, competitors must “perform a fencer’s salute and shake hands” and refusal to do so “before the beginning of the bout or after the last hit” results in a black card.
After the Ukrainian Fencing Federation appealed the decision, FIE changed course on Friday by saying it would allow Kharlan to compete for Ukraine in the upcoming team sabre event, but still defended the decision to issue her a black card.
“The FIE stands fully behind the penalty, which, after a thorough review, is in complete accordance and compliance with its official rules and associated penalties,” the statement read.
FIE interim president Emmanuel Katsiadakis added that the ruling “sends a message of sensitivity and understanding to our members and all sports federations, as the world faces tremendous challenges.”
In a statement provided by FIE, Kharlan said she was “thankful” for the reversal and added that the most important thing for any athlete “is to be able to compete, for my family, my team, my country and all the people who support me.”
In his letter, Bach empathized with Kharlan.
“As a fellow fencer, it is impossible for me to imagine how you feel at this moment. The war against your country, the suffering of the people in Ukraine, the uncertainty around your participation at the Fencing World Championships in Milan, the difficult inner conflicts you and many of your fellow Ukrainian athletes may have and then the events which unfolded yesterday — all this is a roller coaster of emotions and feelings,” he wrote.
“Rest assured that the IOC will continue to stand in full solidarity with the Ukrainian athletes and the Olympic community of Ukraine during these extremely difficult times,” he added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.