The planned women's foil FIE World Cup in Tauberbischofsheim, Germany, has been canceled due to Germany's visa restrictions, preventing Russian and Belarusian athletes from participating.
The International Fencing Federation (FIE) has been embroiled in controversy after allowing the return of Russian and Belarusian athletes who had been banned since March 2020 due to the conflict in Ukraine. At an Extraordinary Congress held last week, delegates voted in favor of allowing individual athletes, teams, and officials from Russia and Belarus to compete in FIE events. However, several European countries have imposed travel restrictions on Russian and Belarusian arrivals, and Germany has also imposed severe restrictions on issuing visas to Russian citizens.
The planned women’s foil FIE World Cup in Tauberbischofsheim, Germany, has been canceled due to Germany’s visa restrictions, preventing Russian and Belarusian athletes from participating. The cancellation comes as a blow to the athletes, who were due to return to FIE competitions inin mid-April, with Tauberbischofsheim being one of the first World Cups they were able to compete in. German Fencing Federation (DFB) President Claudia Bokel, a former chair of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Athletes’ Commission, expressed her disappointment with the decision and stated that the FIE’s vote had “triggered heated discussions both internally and externally.”
Bokel first asserted that “geopolitics” had impacted the decision and issued a warning that it may be a sign of increased coordination in the next few weeks in the sports world, even though she did not specifically clarify how Germany voted at the Extraordinary Congress. After learning of the nation’s state-sponsored doping program, Bokel, who served as the IOC Athletes’ Commission chair from 2012 to 2016, backed calls for Russia to be excluded from the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. However, the IOC ultimately decided against a total ban, instead requiring International Federations to specify eligibility conditions for Russian athletes. Afterwards, Bokel claimed that she had faced internal bullying for her position.
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The Russian Fencing Federation President, Ilgar Mammadov, has responded to the cancellation, stating that he was not surprised by the DFB’s announcement and insisting that another country would be able to step in. Mammadov expressed his understanding that some countries were not able to hold competitions on equal terms, but others could. He claimed that he had normal relations with everyone and that Russian and Belarusian athletes only wanted to fight on the lanes and win in a fair fight.
The IOC, which continues to recommend the non-participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes, has taken note of the FIE decision. IOC President Thomas Bach, who grew up in Tauberbischofsheim, is reportedly close with Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov, who led the FIE from 2008 until temporarily stepping down after being sanctioned by the European Union last year. Greek official Emmanuel Katsiadakis has been Interim FIE President since then.
The FIE’s plans to allow Russian and Belarusian fencers to return to FIE events have faced challenges due to visa restrictions and travel bans. Poland has also put in place a ban on issuing visas to Russian nationals, which may affect the upcoming World Cups, starting with the women’s foil in Poznań from April 21. As the situation continues to evolve, it remains to be seen how the return of Russian and Belarusian athletes to FIE events will play out.
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