Olha Kharlan of Ukraine, left, refused a handshake after beating Russian neutral Anna Smirnova, right, and was later disqualified ©Getty Images

There was anger at the International Fencing Federation (FIE) Fencing World Championships in Milan, where Ukraine's four-time Olympic medallist Olha Kharlan was removed from the women's sabre competition after refusing a handshake with Russian opponent Anna Smirnova.

Kharlan had won her opening match 15-7 at the Milan Convention Centre, and held out her sabre to refuse a handshake with Smirnova after what was the first clash between a Ukrainian athlete and a Russian individual neutral athlete at the FIE Fencing World Championships.

Smirnova launched a protest and remained on the piste for about 50 minutes after the conclusion of her match against Kharlan, but it was initially reported that this was rejected.

However, Kharlan was later handed a black card, disqualifying her from the competition.

A black card is the most serious penalty in fencing, and would rule Kharlan out of the team competition and result in a 60-day ban from competition.

It is set to be appealed by the Ukrainian Fencing Federation, which said it was "deeply outraged by the actions" of the FIE.

Smirnova was not reinstated, with round of 32 opponent Yoana Ilieva of Bulgaria handed a walkover.

The Ukrainian Government has been angered by the decision, with Minister of Foreign Affairs Dmytro Kuleba urging the FIE to rescind the black card.

Anna Smirnova, a Russian athlete competing as a neutral, remained on the piste for around 50 minutes after losing to Ukraine's Olha Kharlan ©Getty Images
Anna Smirnova, a Russian athlete competing as a neutral, remained on the piste for around 50 minutes after losing to Ukraine's Olha Kharlan ©Getty Images

"Anna Smirnova lost the fair competition and decided to play dirty with the handshake show," Kuleba write on Twitter.

"This is exactly how Russian army acts on the battlefield. 

"Olha Kharlan won the fair competition and showed dignity. 

"I urge [the FIE] to restore Kharlan’s rights and allow her to compete."

Ukraine's Olympic wrestling gold medallist and Member of Parliament Zhan Beleniuk claimed on Telegram Kharlan had a pre-match agreement with the FIE to avoid a handshake which the International Federation reneged on.

However, Russian Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin has backed the FIE's decision.

"The International Federation has made the right decision on disqualification, ensuring equality and fair rivalry based on the rules of the sport," he claimed.

"Such incidents are unacceptable,"

insidethegames has asked the FIE for a comment on the nature of Kharlan's disqualification.

Ukraine's Ihor Reizlin was due to face Russian athlete Vadim Anokhin in the men's épée yesterday, but withdrew reportedly for medical reasons.

The Ukrainian Government had decreed its athletes could not compete against Russian and Belarusian participants in Paris 2024 qualifiers, but today lifted its ban.

The FIE controversially decided to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to its competitions in March, even before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) lifted its advised outright ban implemented due to the invasion of Ukraine.

The decision has proved highly controversial in fencing, and events in Germany, Poland and France have been cancelled because of the decision.

Italy cleared Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete at the World Championships in Milan as neutrals, provided they adhered to IOC recommendations of not supporting the war in Ukraine and not being affiliated to the military.

Only 11 of the 39 athletes registered by Russia and Belarus were permitted to participate, but a photo has since emerged of Smirnova posing with her brother, who serves in the Russian army and is pictured in military uniform.

Ukrainian Presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak was among those to share the photograph, and argued "as you can see, she openly admires the Russian army, which is killing Ukrainians and destroying our cities".

"[FIE] - should this be taken as a position?" Podolyak asked.

"Doesn't Russian money smell of blood?"

The war in Ukraine led to Uzbek-born Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov temporarily stepping down as FIE President in March last year, after he was sanctioned by the European Union.

Greek official Emmanuel Katsiadakis has been Interim FIE President since then.