Story at a glance:
- Olympian fencer Alen Hadzic is accused of sexual assault, and his fellow teammates wore pink masks in protest against him.
- The 29-year-old New Jersey fencer was suspended by USA Fencing for the allegations in June, but it was overturned.
- Hadzic’s attorney said that USA Fencing tried to hide his client as an attempt to damage control negative press and keep him “from participating in the Olympic experience that he has rightfully earned.”
Olympian fencer Alen Hadzic is accused of sexual assault, and his fellow teammates wore pink masks in protest to last Friday’s match against Japan at the Tokyo Games.
Three of the four athletes on the men's épée team wore pink masks, according to BuzzFeed News: Jake Hoyle, Curtis McDowald, and Yeisser Ramirez.
It was a coordinated plan to raise awareness that Hadzic, who is under investigation for sexual assault and has at least three allegations of past sexual misconduct, was not embraced by his peers.
"The disdain was clear," a source told BuzzFeed News.
"They decided to make a statement that they were not standing for him being there," another fencing athlete who was not competing in the Tokyo Olympics told BuzzFeed News. "They wanted to make a distinction between themselves that they didn't stand for sexual assault or abuse against women. These athletes wanted to have a voice where US Fencing and SafeSport failed."
SafeSport, a nonprofit agency responsible for protecting athletes from abuse, suspended the 29-year-old New Jersey fencer in question for the allegations in June, but through his lawyers, he appealed his prohibition and it was lifted through an arbitration process the following month.
He was one out of 24 U.S. Olympic fencers in Tokyo, an alternate pick for men's épée team. Six female fencers urged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) not to include him.
"We are gravely concerned about the impact Mr. Hadzic’s potential presence will have on other Team USA athletes," the women wrote on May 20.
Although included in the Tokyo Games, USA Fencing devised a "safety plan" to prevent Hadzic from engaging with women and out of the Olympic Village.
He was also prohibited from training with female teammates.
In an interview with USA Today, Hadzic has denied the allegations of sexual misconduct, saying "Frankly, they’re untruths. They’re just frankly not true."
Michael Palma, his attorney, told The New York Times that USA Fencing tried to hide his client as an attempt to damage control negative press and keep him "from participating in the Olympic experience that he has rightfully earned."
Female 2016 Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad congratulated the three pink-masked fencers on Twitter.
"Kudos to the team for taking a stand," she tweeted on Friday.
Hadzic did not participate on Friday, and the team lost to Japan, coming in ninth place.
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