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27 Jul, 2023 20:14

Russian sports star ‘getting death threats’ over snub from Ukrainian

Anna Smirnova has been subjected to online attacks after Olga Kharlan refused to shake her hand after their fencing match
Russian sports star ‘getting death threats’ over snub from Ukrainian

A Russian fencer competing at the Fencing World Championships in Milan, Italy, as a neutral athlete has been inundated with online threats after her Ukrainian opponent was disqualified from the tournament for refusing to shake her hand after their match.

The incident occurred on Thursday after Anna Smirnova lost her match with Ukraine’s Olga Kharlan, a four-time world champion. As the two athletes came together following their battle, Kharlan refused the required show of sportsmanship by extending her sabre toward Smirnova rather than her hand.

Smirnova was subjected to widespread attacks on social media – including death threats against her and her family members – after Kharlan’s disqualification. “At the moment, Anna has turned off her phone and is resting,” her coach, Valerian Feoktistov, told Russian media. “She’s 23, this weighed heavily on her, naturally.”

Feoktistov said he and Smirnova plan to fly back to Moscow on Friday. He added that the sportsmanship rules of fencing “are the same for everyone. Therefore, of course, from an ethical point of view, it was necessary to shake hands. But the person didn’t want to, that’s all. Sanctions were applied to her within the framework of the rules.”

The Ukrainian Sports Ministry approved Kharlan’s participation only hours before the match. Although the Kiev regime has barred athletes from competing with Russians or Belarusians amid the Russia-Ukraine conflict, it has tweaked its policy to permit matches with athletes who participate without a country affiliation, as Smirnova did.

Kharlan, 32, told France’s AFP earlier this month that she would not shake hands with a Russian if she faced one. The four-time world champion said she agreed with the Ukrainian tennis players who had avoided shaking hands with Russians and Belarusians who competed as neutral athletes.

“They are right not to shake hands,” she said. “I cannot imagine a scenario where I would. We have different fronts. We also have a sport which is about the fight and the struggle.”