Americans stage staggering protest against teammate at Olympics

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Three members of the USA fencing team wear pink masks in protest against teammate Alen Hadzic, wearing a black mask.
Three members of the USA fencing team wore pink masks in protest against teammate Alen Hadzic, who was accused of sexual misconduct prior to the games. Picture: Twitter

Three members of the United States mens fencing team made a stunning protest against a fourth, who was selected for the Tokyo Olympics despite being accused of sexual misconduct. 

Members of the mens épée team Jake Hoyle, Curtis McDowald and Yeisser Ramirez donned pink masks in contrast to the black one of alternate Alen Hadzic, who joined the team as an alternate despite a protest against his presence.

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Hadzic was suspended by the U.S. Center for SafeSport on June 2 after three women accused him of sexual misconduct on separate occasions when he was a student at Columbia University. 

One of his female fencing teammates accused him of sexual misconduct in 2013, while another woman accused him of assaulting her after she turned down his advances in 2015.

He was allowed to join the team in Tokyo after appealing his suspension, but was required to stay in a hotel outside the athletes' village.

His accusers approached SafeSport with their allegations after he qualified for the Tokyo Games on May 7. An arbitrator overturned his suspension on June 29 after Hadzic appealed, and he was permitted to attend the Olympics.

“I think one case is enough for you to not be allowed to compete at the f****** Olympics,” one of his accusers told USA Today anonymously. 

“It really makes you question how far someone needs to go in order for them not to be able to compete.’’

Hadzic has repeatedly denied the allegations, telling USA Today: "They’re just frankly not true.” 

His lawyer Michael Palma criticised SafeSport for the initial suspension absent criminal or civil charges against Hadzic.

“The system is broken,” Palma told The New York Times.

While he was allowed to attend the Games as an alternate, Hadzic was not allowed at the Olympic Village with his teammates and other competitors. 

Hadzic had to fly to Tokyo separately from his teammates and stayed in a hotel away from other athletes. 

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The restrictions were imposed by USA Fencing in coordination with the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee as part of a "safety plan."

Per an email to Hadzic from USA Fencing CEO Kris Ekeren obtained by USA Today:

“Team athletes have expressed concerns for their safety and well-being arising from your presence, which they say are likely to adversely affect their mental and emotional abilities to prepare and compete at the highest levels required for success in the Olympic Games,” the email read. 

“Several have asked that USA Fencing put measures in place to keep them safe and minimize distractions from training and competition. 

"Accordingly, USA Fencing, in conjunction with the USOPC, will implement a safety plan for the upcoming Olympic Games.”

Hadzic also appealed that decision. An arbitrator ruled that he could move to a hotel closer to the Olympic Village, but upheld his ban from the village. 

Per USA Today, his fencing teammate Katharine Holmes said during the hearing that she collected electronic signatures from everyone on the team in support of barring Hadzic from attending the Olympics.

Palma disputed that Holmes actually had the signatures.

The pink masks worn by Hoyle, McDowald and Ramirez on Friday suggest that they stood by Hadzic's accusers.

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