U.S fencers wear pink masks in apparent stand against teammate accused of sexual misconduct

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RICHMOND, CANADA - FEBRUARY 8: Alen Hadzic of the USA (left) fences Max Heinzer of Switzerland during the individual finals at the Peter Bakonyi Men's Epee World Cup on February 8 2020 at the Richmond Olympic Oval in Richmond, Canada. (Photo by Devin Manky/Getty Images)
Alen Hadzic, left, attended the Tokyo Olympics amid allegations of sexual misconduct. (Devin Manky/Getty Images/file)

When the U.S. men's épée team took the Olympic stage before facing Japan on Friday, three of the four athletes wore pink masks. 

The fourth, Alen Hadzic, did not. 

Hadzic joined the team in Japan as an alternate. He did so under protest after he was accused by multiple women of sexual misconduct, resulting in a suspension that was lifted and banishment from the Olympic Village. 

When he stood alongside his teammates Jake Hoyle, Curtis McDowald and Yeisser Ramirez on Friday, he was the only one not wearing a pink mask.

Hadzic did not compete on Friday. Hoyle, McDowald and Ramirez fell to Japan, 45-39 for a ninth-place Team USA finish that ended theirs and Hadzic's Olympics.

If it were up to many of his teammates, Hadzic wouldn't have been in Tokyo to begin with. 

Hadzic was suspended by the U.S. Center for SafeSport on June 2 after three women accused him of sexual misconduct on separate occasions when he was a student at Columbia University. One of his female fencing teammates accused him of sexual misconduct in 2013, leading to a one-year Title IX suspension

Another woman accused Hadzic of grabbing her buttocks and slamming her against a dresser in 2015 after she had turned down his advances at a bar earlier in the evening. The alleged incident took place in his apartment. His accuser says she went to his apartment to protect a friend she didn't want to leave alone with Hadzic. She was aware of the previous allegation against him. 

His accusers approached SafeSport with their allegations after he qualified for the Tokyo Games on May 7. An arbitrator overturned his suspension on June 29 after Hadzic appealed, and he was permitted to attend the Olympics. 

“I think one case is enough for you to not be allowed to compete at the f****** Olympics,” one of his accusers told USA Today anonymously. “It really makes you question how far someone needs to go in order for them not to be able to compete.’’

Hadzic has repeatedly denied the allegations, telling USA Today: "They’re just frankly not true.” His lawyer Michael Palma criticized SafeSport for the initial suspension absent criminal or civil charges against Hadzic. 

“The system is broken,” Palma told The New York Times.

While he was allowed to attend the Games as an alternate, Hadzic was not allowed at the Olympic Village with his teammates and other competitors. Hadzic had to fly to Tokyo separately from his teammates and stayed in a hotel away from other athletes. The restrictions were imposed by USA Fencing in coordination with the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee as part of a "safety plan."

Per an email to Hadzic from USA Fencing CEO Kris Ekeren obtained by USA Today:

“Team athletes have expressed concerns for their safety and well-being arising from your presence, which they say are likely to adversely affect their mental and emotional abilities to prepare and compete at the highest levels required for success in the Olympic Games,” the email read. “Several have asked that USA Fencing put measures in place to keep them safe and minimize distractions from training and competition. Accordingly, USA Fencing, in conjunction with the USOPC, will implement a safety plan for the upcoming Olympic Games.”

Hadzic also appealed that decision. An arbitrator ruled that he could move to a hotel closer to the Olympic Village, but upheld his ban from the village. Per USA Today, his fencing teammate Katharine Holmes said that she collected electronic signatures from everyone on the team in support of barring Hadzic from attending the Olympics. 

Palma disputed that Holmes actually had the signatures. 

The pink masks worn by Hoyle, McDowald and Ramirez on Friday suggest that they stood by Hadzic's accusers. 

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