With the help of their COVID-19 masks, the U.S. men's fencing team staged an apparent protest on the Olympic stage against their own teammate, who has been accused of sexual misconduct of women.
Alen Hadzic, an alternate, denies the allegations by three female fencers. On Friday, July 30, during introductions for the team épée competition at the Tokyo Olympics, three of his U.S. fencing teammates—Jake Hoyle, Curtis McDowald and Yeisser Ramirez—stood near him wearing pink masks while he wore a black one.
Fencing champion Ibtihaj Muhammad, who won a bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics and became the first Muslim woman to represent the United States at the Olympic Games while wearing a hijab, publicly applauded the men's decision. "#TeamUSA men's epee team wore pink masks for their opening match at the Olympics as a show of support for sexual assault victims. Kudos to the team for taking a stand," she tweeted. "#BelieveWomen."
Ramirez reposted her tweet on his Instagram Story. His teammates and USA Fencing have not commented.
Hadzic was blindsided by the protest. He told USA Today Sports that as he and the three other U.S. men's épée fencers waited to be introduced before their match against Japan, McDowald handed out a black mask for Hadzic and pink ones for the three other fencers.
"I just remember thinking it would be kind of silly if I stood out there with a black mask," he told the outlet, "and I asked them if they had an extra [pink] one, and they go, 'Oh, no.'"
Hazdic told the outlet that after the team lost its match to Japan, someone sent him a photo showing him wearing the black mask and standing alongside his three teammates wearing pink masks, and he then "realized what was going on." Hadzic said he managed to track down Hoyle, telling him he "was frankly embarrassed to be his teammate" and Ramirez, telling him, "it wasn't cool."
His teammates, Hazdic told the newspaper, "never asked me for my side of the story" and "never asked for evidence or how I felt."
In June, the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a nonprofit that aims to protect athletes from sexual, emotional and physical abuse, temporarily suspended Hadzic from fencing after three women told investigators he committed sexual misconduct against them between 2013 and 2015. He appealed the decision and an arbitrator overturned the suspension, declaring it "inappropriate to the allegations." They also restored his Olympic eligibility, writing that his inclusion on the fencing team would not be "detrimental to the reputation of the United States or his sport," The New York Times said.
But due to the allegations, Hadzic's team has personally shunned him and following their objections, he was even denied housing in the Olympic Village and has been staying away from them at a hotel, The New York Times said.
Jack Wiener, a New York lawyer who represents one of Hadzic's accusers, told the newspaper he was "pleased to see Team USA athletes speak out, where the administrative bodies charged with protecting people against sexual misconduct have failed the victims."
But Jacqueline Dubrovich, a member of the U.S. women's Olympic fencing team, wrote on her Instagram Story that the male fencer's mask-wearing was "performance activism" that "does not address the issue at hand here." She said those who "enabled and protected a violent predator are not being held accountable."