Updated: August 1, 2021 10:56:10 am
By Jeré Longman
Alen Hadzic, an alternate on the U.S. Olympic fencing team who is accused of sexual misconduct, has been ostracized in Tokyo and prevented from staying in the Olympic Village.
On Friday, his teammates protested his presence face to face — or, more precisely, mask to mask. During introductions for the team épée competition, three U.S. fencers wore pink masks, apparently in support of sexual assault victims, while Hadzic was left wearing a black one. A photograph of the unsettled team showed the fencers standing in stark contrast.
“Kudos to the team for taking a stand,” tweeted Ibtihaj Muhammad, who won a bronze medal in the women’s saber competition in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 and became the first Muslim woman to represent the United States at an Olympics while wearing a hijab.
Hadzic, 29, who grew up in Montclair, New Jersey, has been accused of sexual impropriety by three female fencers in incidents that took place between 2013 and 2015. At least two of the accusers knew Hadzic during their careers at Columbia University.
#TeamUSA men’s epee team wore pink masks for their opening match at the Olympics as a show of support for sexual assault victims. Alen Hadzic— their teammate accused of rape and sexual assault— is on the left. Kudos to the team for taking a stand. #BelieveWomen pic.twitter.com/yRI4azelKN
— Ibtihaj Muhammad (@IbtihajMuhammad) July 30, 2021
On June 2, Hadzic was temporarily suspended from fencing by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, an independent nonprofit created in 2017 to safeguard athletes from sexual, emotional and physical abuse.
Hadzic, who has denied the accusations, appealed to an arbitrator, who ruled that the suspension was “inappropriate to the allegations” and restored his Olympic eligibility. His inclusion on the team, the arbitrator wrote, would not be “detrimental to the reputation of the United States or his sport.”
But the U.S. team has shunned Hadzic in Tokyo. USA Fencing, the national governing body, informed Hadzic that his teammates had “expressed concerns for their safety and well-being arising from your presence.” He flew to Tokyo separately from the team, and his attempt to secure housing in the Olympic Village was denied in an arbitration hearing in Tokyo after teammates objected. He has been staying at a hotel.
Jacqueline Dubrovich, a member of the U.S. Olympic fencing team, posted on Instagram that the mask-wearing Friday was “performative activism” that “does not address the issue at hand here.”
In an apparent reference to the Hadzic case, Dubrovich wrote that those who “enabled and protected a violent predator are not being held accountable,” adding, “Female athletes were not protected & our safety was deemed unimportant.”
Hadzic told USA Today on Saturday that he did not realize what was happening with the mask protest until he was sent a photograph after the United States lost its team match to Japan on Friday. He told the newspaper that teammate Curtis McDowald had handed out the masks before the match, and, when Hadzic asked if there was an extra pink one, was told no.
Hadzic told USA Today that he later confronted another épée fencer, Jake Hoyle, and told him that he was “embarrassed” to be Hoyle’s teammate. Hadzic said he also confronted teammate Yeisser Ramirez and “chewed him out.”
Jack Wiener, a New York lawyer who represents one of Hadzic’s accusers, said in a telephone interview Saturday that 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.”