Voice, Freedom of Speech of Athletes, Belarus, Human Rights

300+ of International Fencers Call on the IOC & FIE to Uphold the Ban of Russia & Belarus


Over 300 International Fencers Call on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Fencing Federation (FIE) to Uphold the Ban on Russia and Belarus.

28 March 2023

To:     Mr. Thomas Bach, President, International Olympic Committee

Mr. Emmanuel Katsiadakis, Interim President, International Fencing Federation

CC:    Ms. Emma Terho, Chair, International Olympic Committee Athlete Commission

Mr. Rubén Limardo Gascon, Chair, International Fencing Federation Athlete Commission

Dear Mr. Bach, dear Mr. Katsiadakis,

In your roles as presidents of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Fencing Federation (FIE), we turn to you regarding your efforts to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete again in international sporting competitions. With complete disregard for athletes’ voices, you have permitted both Russia and Belarus back into FIE competitions, as well as a suspected tournament hosted on Russian soil. This is an apparent breach of the IOC’s position that “no international sport events are to be organized or supported by an IF or NOC in Russia or Belarus” and once again exposes Russian interests outweighing the voice and rights of athletes, especially those from Ukraine.

Russia’s aggression violates not only the norms of international law but also the fundamental values of Olympism, including peace, harmonious development of humankind and respect for human dignity and human rights. As long as Russia’s war of aggression, aided by Belarus, wages on, both states’ athletes and officials must remain excluded from world sport. Given the recent escalation of attacks against Ukrainian civilians, there should be no reason at this time to allow Russia and Belarus to be reintegrated into world sport. Integration would lay a precedent in which a nation can violate the values and rules of sport and international peace without fear of consequences.

To date, Russia’s aggression on Ukraine has resulted in 232 athletes being killed, 343 sport facilities being destroyed, 40,000 athletes forced abroad, and 140,000 young athletes left without sport facilities. The international community is acutely aware that for Russian and Belarusian athletes, there is no distinction between the athlete and the state. Not only have these athletes been encouraged to fight in the war by the Russian Olympic Committee, with a large majority of them holding military and law enforcement positions, but they are also beneficiaries of state funding – drawing their pay from Putin’s war chest and thus making any separation between the state and the athlete implausible. Athletes were and will be instrumentalized for Putin’s propaganda. Competing under a neutral flag has not proven to be a suitable sanctioning instrument in the past and is not suitable now.

Furthermore, the UN Special Rapporteurs’ communication that the IOC refers to in their statements seems to lack a thorough human rights assessment. In contrast, a recently released expert report by Prof. Patricia Wiater, Chair of Public Law, International Law and Human Rights at the Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg, concluded that a collective exclusion of the Russian athletes is permissible and, despite unequal treatment, is not to be assessed as a violation of international prohibitions of discrimination. In addition, opinion polls, as recently used by the IOC, are not suitable methods to decide about the rights and the protection needs of the Ukrainian athletes, nor are they suitable to determine the admissibility of collective exclusions.

We believe that sport must find answers for dealing with states who violate the values of sport, who intentionally use sport as a political instrument, and who break international and human rights laws. We understand that the IOC and the International Sports Federations are walking a fine line with sanctions and exclusions, given the unifying and peacemaking mission of sport. Its political neutrality is fundamental for sport to protect itself from instrumentalization and to be globally active as far as possible. However, this neutrality must not be used as an excuse to accept and possibly even tolerate serious violations of universally accepted human rights.

On behalf of over 300 active and former fencing athletes, we call on you in your leadership capacity of the IOC to uphold your recommended suspensions of the Russian and Belarusian Fencing Federations and National Olympic Committees and ensure the FIE adheres to your guidelines. Any suspension must reject the notion of neutrality and include the banning of all Russian and Belarusian athletes from international sport, including hosting events, qualifying for, and competing at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games until Russia withdraws completely from Ukrainian territory. We also expect an unequivocal commitment to support and protect peaceful anti-war protests and expressions of solidarity with Ukraine by athletes at international competitions.

The recent events in fencing remain alarming. The FIE’s perceived allowance for Russia to host a tournament in Moscow is a clear breach of the already weak IOC guidelines and the return of Russian athletes to international competitions has forced the Ukrainian victims of the war to retreat while the aggressor is courted on his way back to the world sporting stage. Because of this ignorance on the part of the FIE and National Fencing Federations, it is once again the athletes who bear the responsibility and are being pushed into individual deliberations about boycott decisions. Athletes are left alone in this chaos. This irresponsibility continues to risk collateral damage to those who speak out against the war, stay away from competitions out of conviction, and may even forgo opportunities for qualification and funding.

The FIE is not fulfilling its duty of care for athletes, especially for Ukrainians. Your insufficient leadership in completely banning Russia and Belarus is being called out by athletes and civil society across the globe. You have chosen Russian and Belarusian interests over the rights of athletes, notably Ukrainian athletes, and by doing so, you are failing to support the very people your organizations are meant to support. This egregious, unprovoked war and its breach of the Olympic Truce cannot be ignored or rewarded. Returning to business as usual would be a catastrophic error and thus we again urge you to uphold the suspensions of Russia and Belarus.

On behalf of,

300+ International Fencers

Supported by Athleten Deutschland and Global Athlete