Former IOC member and now German Fencing Federation President Claudia Bokel of Germany suggested "geopolitics" had influenced the return of Russian and Belarusian athletes to FIE events ©Getty Images

German Fencing Federation President and former International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Claudia Bokel has claimed that "geopolitics" influenced the International Fencing Federation's (FIE) decision to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to its competitions.

Athens 2004 women's team épée silver medallist and former IOC Athletes' Commission chair Bokel also warned that the result "could be a sign of further coordination in the next few weeks in the sports world", but there could be issues with athletes from Russia and Belarus competing at events in Germany.

"This result is based on the one hand on geopolitics, we have seen that the assembly of the NOCs (National Olympic Committees) from Africa and Asia have already agreed to participate, on the other hand based on the question of whether there should continue to be a general ban on all athletes," Bokel said.

The German Fencing Federation said it risked losing hosting rights to international fencing events if it could not guarantee the presence of Russian and Belarusian competitors, and would discuss these issues with "the relevant authorities".

As IOC Athletes' Commission chair from 2012 until 2016, Bokel supported calls for Russia to be banned from the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro following revelations about the country's state-sponsored doping programme.

The IOC ultimately decided against a blanket ban, with eligibility criteria for Russian athletes defined by International Federations.

Bokel later claimed she was "bullied internally" for her stance.

Russian and Belarusian individual fencers and teams are set to return to FIE competitions from mid-April ©Getty Images
Russian and Belarusian individual fencers and teams are set to return to FIE competitions from mid-April ©Getty Images

The IOC has recommended the non-participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes in international competitions since the end of February last year because of the war in Ukraine, which the FIE had adhered to.

In recent months, the IOC has controversially been "exploring a pathway" for their return under "strict conditions" of neutrality, and the FIE's decisions are "subject to possible future IOC recommendations/decisions".

The invasion also led to Uzbek-born Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov - a close friend of IOC President and Montreal 1976 men's team foil gold medallist Thomas Bach - self-suspending his duties as FIE President after he was sanctioned by the European Union.

Greek official Emmanuel Katsiadakis has been serving as Interim President.

FIE members yesterday voted convincingly at the Extraordinary Congress held online to allow Russian and Belarusian individual fencers, teams and officials to return to its events at an online Extraordinary Congress, effective from mid-April.

Recently elected Fencing Federation of Ukraine President Mykhailo Illiashev told Ukrainian public broadcaster Suspilne that it was "deeply shocked and outraged", and had called an urgent meeting to coordinate its response to the decision.

Swedish Fencing Federation President Otto Drakenberg had argued at the Extraordinary Congress that "there is no practical reason to move away from the exclusion" of Russian and Belarusian athletes set by the FIE.

Ukraine's Sports Minister and NOC President Vadym Gutzeit, a former fencer who won a team sabre gold alongisde Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) President Stanislav Pozdnyakov at Barcelona 1992, admitted to Tribuna that the return of Russian and Belarusian athletes to competitions would represent a "common defeat".

Ukrainian Olympic wrestling gold medallist and Member of Parliament Zhan Beleniuk expressed fears to the same publication that the FIE's decision would create a "precedent", and urged the NOC of Ukraine and Ministry of Sports to provide guidance to athletes on whether they should participate at Paris 2024 qualifiers with Russian and Belarusian athletes.

Ukraine's four-time Olympic fencing medallist Olha Kharlan admitted  she felt "anger" and "injustice" after the decision and claimed "no one pays attention to the fact that their [the Russian] army kills people", as reported by Tribuna.

Men's sabre world number one Sandro Bazadze of Georgia has expressed his support for Ukrainian fencers, and said the decision was "unfair" when "innocent children and people die for no reason".

Ukraine's two-time Olympic skeleton representative Vladyslav Heraskevych, a vocal critic of the Olympic Movement's action in response to the war which he perceives to be too lenient on Russia and Belarus, said it was a "shameful decision".

"Russian athletes are guilty of this war and should be held accountable for their crimes," he claimed on Twitter as he shared insidethegames' story.

"The international sports arena shouldn’t be a tool for raising the reputation of a terrorist country and propagandizing the war."

Heraskevych also highlighted the role that Usmanov allegedly continues to play behind the scenes at the FIE, while Beleniuk drew attention to Bach's fencing background.

Usmanov and Bach are good friends.

Former British fencer Laurence Halsted described the decision as "horrendous", and suggested other nations could boycott FIE events.

Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov, left, stood temporarily stood down as FIE President following the invasion of Ukraine, but has remained close to Olympic fencing gold medallist Thomas Bach, right, head of the IOC ©FIE
Russian oligarch Alisher Usmanov, left, stood temporarily stood down as FIE President following the invasion of Ukraine, but has remained close to Olympic fencing gold medallist Thomas Bach, right, head of the IOC ©FIE

In contrast, the FIE move has been welcomed in Russia.

Its Sports Minister Oleg Matytsin claimed that it represented "an important decision that speaks of the tendency of International Federations to conduct constructive work on the eve of the qualifying season in the Olympic cycle", as reported by Russia's official state news agency TASS.

Women's team sabre Olympic gold medallist Olga Nikitina admitted to TASS that the news "came as a surprise" but said she was "very happy", and her team-mate Sofya Velikaya, the individual silver medallist at Tokyo 2020, thanked countries who voted for what she described as "equal rights and conditions".

Athens 2004 men's team sabre bronze medallist Alexei Yakimenko praised the FIE for a decision which he claimed shows "sport is out of politics, sport is the most peaceful thing we have" in an interview with TASS.

State Duma Deputy and former women's 500 metres speed skating Olympic champion Svetlana Zhurova cautioned "we have to wait how our society reacts to the adoption of such a proposal", with boycotts from countries who opposed the return of Russian and Belarusian athletes possible.

The FIE is still yet to comment on the decisions of yesterday's Extraordinary Congress.

Russian athletes, competing under the ROC banner due to anti-doping sanctions, topped the fencing medals table at the re-arranged 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo with three golds.