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U.S. Fencer Competes in the Olympics Despite Multiple Allegations of Sexual Assault

USA Fencing had a "safety plan" to keep Alen Hadzic away from women.

Tokyo Olympics logo.

There are 613 U.S. athletes competing in the Tokyo Olympics, representing America as the best of the best in their respective sports. But only one of these Olympians is the subject of a “safety plan” designed to physically keep him from sexually assaulting women. Fencing team alternate Alen Hadzic managed to join Team USA despite multiple allegations of sexual assault and complaints from dozens of people, including his own teammates.

After securing his spot on the team, six women fencers (two of them Olympic athletes) wrote to the Olympic committee asking that Hadzic be removed from the team, as he was under investigation for multiple accusations of sexual misconduct. But this was hardly Hadzic’s first experience with such accusations. While he was a student at Columbia University, Hadzic was well known as a serial abuser who targeted drunk women at parties. In 2013, a woman fencer formally accused Hadzic of sexually abusing her during a party. A Title IX investigation ensued, which resulted in Columbia suspending Hadzic for a year and expelled him from the fencing team.

Despite this, Hadzic kept competing on a national level, eventually securing his spot as an alternate on the Olympic team. And in the predominantly white, wealthy sport, he found plenty of supportive coaches and mentors who protected him. Columbia’s head coach Michael Aufrichtig ignored several complaints about Hadzic. Aufrichtig, a member of the USA Fencing board of directors, failed to inform fellow board members of the allegations against Hadzic. Aufrichtig’s behavior echoes that of countless other coaches who protect star players at the expense of their victims.

“He made my life a living hell at Columbia because he was extremely emotionally and psychologically abusive,” one woman said of Hadzic. “At the time, nothing could be done. We were all so helpless in the situation because he just continues to get what he wants because he is a really fantastic fencer.”

In 2018, Congress passed a law establishing the US Center for SafeSport, an independent nonprofit whose job it was to investigate claims of sexual misconduct in any teams or programs affiliated with the Olympics. The law was largely a response to the 2018 U.S. gymnastics scandal where team doctor Larry Nassar molested hundreds of athletes over several years. Nassar was convicted and is currently serving a life sentence.

But critics of SafeSport say that the group is underfunded and ineffectual. SafeSport suspended Hadzic from international competition, but that decision was overturned during an arbitration process. Instead, USA fencing created a “safety plan” which saw Hadzic flying on a different plane and staying in a hotel outside the Olympic village. He was also banned from practicing with women teammates. Hadzic complained of the plan, saying he was denied his “Olympic experience”. He tried to appeal the ruling until the entire roster of Team USA fencers signed a letter demanding the plan stay.

Fellow USA fencers are frustrated and angry that Hadzic is allowed to compete. One Olympic fencer said, “We are pissed off that this is even a thing we had to deal with, … He’s been protected again and again.” Another fencer said, “If this had been dealt with in the way that it should have been, he should have not even had the opportunity to try to make the Olympic team, … And now we have to deal with the consequences of having a predator on the team while simultaneously competing in the biggest event of our lives. And I think that’s a very unfair position to put us in.”

(via Buzzfeed News, image: Toru Hanai/Getty images)

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Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.