Ukrainian fencer Olga Kharlan, who was controversially disqualified from the world championships for not shaking hands with a Russian opponent, defiantly insisted on Thursday: “We will never shake hands with them.”
Kharlan, 32, claimed she had been given the green light to snub Russian rival Anna Smirnova by the head of the sport’s federation despite the gesture being a key feature of post-bout rituals.
“My message today is that we Ukrainian athletes are ready to face Russians on the sports field but we will never shake hands with them,” the four-time world champion told several journalists, including a reporter from AFP.
She claimed that Emmanuel Katsiadakis, the Greek president of the International Fencing Federation (FIE), had even assured her that it was “possible” not to shake hands and offer a touch of her blade instead following her victory.
“I thought I had his word, to be safe, but apparently, no,” Kharlan said of Katsiadakis who succeeded Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov as head of the ruling body in the aftermath of the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
“This federation will never change. In any case, I don’t know if I will still be alive if that ends up happening.
“I hope the fencing world understands. Not just that something is wrong but that something has to be done to change it. Because guys today it’s me, tomorrow it could be you.”
Kharlan’s disqualification is also set to rule her out of the team event at the world championships which double up as a qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
However, she insisted she has no regrets having won Olympic gold in the teams event in Beijing in 2008.
“All I know is that I really made the right choice,” she said.
“There is something more important than medals – my country, my family.
“My phone is going crazy. I’ve had support from so many people… from the government, from athletes, from celebrities and also from soldiers on the front lines.
“A guy who flies a helicopter told me he sent a video to tell me that he was proud of me. It brings me to tears because I am very grateful to them. And if they are proud of me, it’s because I did something that made me happy.”
Meanwhile, Ukraine tennis star Elina Svitolina, who has consistently refused to shake hands with Russian and Belarusian opponents, said Kharlan’s decision was “the right thing to do for our people”.
“The Russian fencer provoked her and Olha was disqualified,” former world number three and recent Wimbledon semi-finalist Svitolina told the Atlantic Council think tank on Thursday.
“That is really disrespectful from the fencing federation. Why don’t Russians respect our position?”