By LOUIS C. HOCHMAN
USA Fencing has blocked Alen Hadzic — the Montclair High School graduate who was permitted to compete at the Olympics while an oversight group investigated multiple allegations of sexual misconduct against him — from entering events, USA Today reports.
It cited a statement from USA Fencing saying Hadzic would not be allowed to compete “for the foreseeable future.” The statement said the organization reserves discretion as to which athletes it will register for competitions, and “must be mindful of many factors, including how registration of individuals reflects on USA Fencing, its values and the interests of other athletes.”
USA Fencing would only enter Hadzic into competitions “to the extent it is legally compelled to do so,” the statement said, according to USA Today. Hadzic’s attorney, Michael Palma, told the publication it was “troubling” USA Fencing would side against his attorney “simply because the mob scares them into it” and said he wasn’t given any explanation for the decision.
Hadzic has not been criminally charged with any sexual misconduct, but an investigation by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, the body charged with investigating reports of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct to the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee, continues.
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Palma, this summer told Montclair Local his client has never been accused of rape in any forum, including the SafeSport investigation. But he acknowledged that one of the incidents under review was the same that prompted a Title IX investigation, when both Hadzic and the woman who filed the complaint were fencers at Columbia University. And Palma acknowledged to Montclair Local that complaint, which resulted in Hadzic’s suspension from Columbia for a year, involved an issue of consent.
“Hypothetically, it can be a situation where the parties are mutually, willingly and affirmatively engaged together in a sexual act without any impropriety or coercion and everyone is of sound mind and, several days later, one of the parties decides to retract their consent after the act has occurred,” Palma said. And he said he found the ruling inappropriate given the facts in the record, without describing what they were.
But attorney Jack Wiener, who has represented some of the women who have reported allegations of sexual misconduct to Safesport, called Palma’s description of a hypothetical incident one that “slithers around his admitting the following — under New York criminal law, a person commits rape when he has sex with another person ‘without [her] consent.’”
Montclair Local has left messages with both USA Fencing and Palma and is awaiting a response.
Hadzic was permitted to take part in this year’s Olympic games over the protests of many in the fencing community, including some of his fellow Olympians. The handling of the matter focused heavy criticism on USA Fencing, and has resulted in dramatic changes to its leadership.
Hadzic, an alternate on the U.S. men’s fencing team, would only have competed in this year’s games had another fencer become injured or unavailable. But he appeared alongside his teammates as part of the epee team at the games, where they ultimately fell to Japan, and finished ninth. Hadzic, seen in videos and images that quickly spread through social media, was wearing a black face mask. Fellow fencers Jake Hoyle, Curtis McDowald and Yeisser Ramirez were in pink masks — in apparent protest of Hadzic’s presence and support of the women who’ve accused him of misconduct. He told USA Today in July he confronted teammates who “never asked me for my side of the story.”
The protest was a measure Jackie Dubrovich, also a 2021 Olympic fencer from New Jersey, called “performative activism” on Instagram. Her post quoted a fellow fencer, Eve Levin, asking: “Who turned a blind eye? Who cooperated with the investigation and who stymied it? Who lied on his behalf? Who privately derided and undermined the people who spoke out against him?”
Montclair Local first reported Hadzic had been suspended over misconduct allegations in June. An arbitrator lifted the suspension later that month. According to USA Today, Judge Sherrie L. Krauser, who presided over the hearing, said there hadn’t been any new allegations in the last two years — the three alleged incidents under investigation at the time dated from 2013 through 2015 — and other measures in place would keep fencers safe.
“Further, I do not find it likely that [Mr. Hadzic’s] continued participation would be detrimental to the reputation of the United States or his sport,” USA Today quoted Krauser saying — a statement Wiener told Montclair Local this summer was “jaw-dropping.”
After the arbitrator lifted Hadzic’s suspension, allowing him to appear at the Olympic Games, USA Fencing put in a “safety plan” that restricted Hadzic from staying in the Olympic Village. Hadzic unsuccessfully sought to have those restrictions set aside. During that process, fellow fencers wrote a letter to USA Fencing, saying they would feel unsafe were Hadzic allowed to stay in the Olympic Village.
SafeSport does not disclose the nature of allegations it’s investigating. A spokesman for the organization has also stressed to Montclair Local previously steps it takes on matters such as the suspension aren’t an indication of what its investigation may ultimately find.
Several USA Fencing executives resigned in the last few weeks. The group took heavy criticism from athletes and parents at a board meeting in August called by then-USA Fencing president Peter Burchard, Business Insider reported. USA Fencing executive director Kris Ekeren, communications director Nicole Jomantas and general counsel Jim Neale all resigned in the weeks following, according to multiple reports.
USA Fencing recently eliminated its membership-elected president role, replacing it with a board chairmanship, Fencing.net reports. Burchard, who transitioned into that new role, was ousted by the board Oct. 16, just a year into his four-year term, the report said.
That day, David Arias, his replacement, said in a statement from USA Fencing there are “serious problems that demand our attention.”
“That requires transparency and the kind of communication that builds trust,” he said. “That requires effectively managing the work of 20 committees and hundreds of volunteers that dedicate themselves to our sport. That requires leading with integrity and respect for others and building accountability into everything we do.”
Arias pledged to hold open forums every other month. He criticized his predecessor for leading “with division and grandstanding, damaging relationships internally and with nearly every partner organization.”
An earlier version of this post attributed a quote to Jackie Dubrovich; she had posted the quote to instagram, but it was originally by fellow fencer Eve Levin.