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“It killed me, I screamed in pain”: Ukrainian saber fencer Olha Kharlan on disqualification over refusal to shake Russian opponent's hand

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Ukrainian saber fencer Olha Kharlan recently shared her reaction to her disqualification from the World Championships in a video on Instagram.

“Today was a very hard and very important day. What happened today raises a lot of questions, but at the same time gives a lot of answers. We realized that the country that terrorizes our state, our people, our families, also terrorizes sport. What happened today was bound to happen.
I didn't want to shake this athlete's hand, and I acted with my heart. So when I heard that they wanted to remove me from competition, disqualify me, give me a black card, of course it killed me. It killed me so much that I was screaming in pain,” Kharlan told her followers.

Kharlan also noted that Ukrainians “cannot be forced to peace by any handshake” and thanked the servicemen who are protecting Ukraine from Russia’s invasion.

Kharlan was disqualified on July 27 after she refused to shake hands with her opponent, Russian Anna Smirnova. Instead, Kharlan extended her saber, suggesting that her opponent touch blades (which is how fencers saluted each other during the Covid-19 pandemic) after the bout. Prior to being disqualified, Kharlan beat Smirnova 15:7.

According to the rules of the International Fencing Federation (FIE), a handshake or salute after a bout is prescribed, and without this final greeting, the bout is not considered to be over. Two hours after the bout, the Ukrainian athlete was black-carded and was suspended from competition for 60 days.

Ukrainian Minister of Sport Vadym Gutzeit, in turn, stressed that Kharlan offered to touch blades instead of shaking hands, but Smirnova insisted on the latter, provoking the athlete. According to Gutzeit, Israeli and Arab athletes are known to end bouts by touching blades — a practice accepted by FIE judges.

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