TOKYO — A U.S. Olympic fencer under investigation for allegations of sexual misconduct is participating at the Tokyo Olympics but facing restrictions his attorneys say are arbitrary and unnecessary, according to a complaint obtained by USA TODAY Sports.
The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee (USOPC) and USA Fencing say the restrictions are a matter of safety.
Alen Hadzic, the 29-year-old fencer, was temporarily suspended in June by the U.S. Center for SafeSport after three women told investigators Hadzic committed sexual misconduct against them between 2013 and 2015, according to the complaint filed with the USOPC.
An arbitrator overturned the temporary suspension last month, allowing Hadzic to join the U.S. Olympic fencing team. However, USA Fencing is restricting Hadzic’s movement in Tokyo, including forcing him to stay at a hotel while the team is at the Olympic Village, according to the complaint. Hadzic is asking the USOPC to immediately lift the measures with the opening ceremony for the Games scheduled for Friday.
An arbitration hearing is tentatively set for Thursday, said attorney Michael Palma, who is representing Hadzic.
Palma says USA Fencing has known of the allegations made by the three women “for years’’ and has never put a restriction in place for Hadzic while he has competed all over the world with USA Fencing teams. The actions have been characterized by USA Fencing as part of a “safety plan,” according to the complaint.
USA Fencing and the USOPC declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
Hadzic denied the allegations of sexual misconduct during a phone interview with USA TODAY Sports.
“Frankly, they’re untruths,” Hadzic said. “They’re just frankly not true.’’
At an arbitration hearing on June 28 requested by Hadzic, SafeSport presented evidence and arguments that Hadzic committed sexual misconduct against three women in separate incidents between 2013 and 2015, in violation of SafeSport code.
SafeSport, which opened in March 2017 to investigate sexual abuse in Olympic sports, provided an additional report that Hadzic violated the same code in 2019, resulting in USA Fencing placing him on probation through the closing ceremony of the Tokyo Games, according to the complaint.
Judge Sherrie L. Krauser, who presided over the arbitration hearing, lifted the suspension and, according to the documents, stated, “I find that the ‘temporary suspension’ is inappropriate to the allegations. Specifically, I find that the lack of any allegation of misconduct in the past two years, the continuing probation supervision of USA Fencing and the strict regulation of members of the U.S. Olympic team provide sufficient guarantees to the ‘safety or well-being’ of others to lift the temporary suspension.
“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. For these reasons, I find that the temporary suspension is lifted as not warranted by the facts and circumstances of the allegations.”
Krauser upheld a directive that prohibits Hadzic from contacting the three women and deferred a final ruling until a full hearing can be held. A date for the full hearing was not listed in the complaint.
After Krauser’s ruling, USA Fencing issued Hadzic a “notice” outlining restrictions that would be in place for him during the Olympics, according to the complaint. USA Fencing stipulated that Hadzic would fly to Tokyo on July 18, two days after his teammates.
“Fundamentally, (USA Fencing) wants to hide Mr. Hadzic and keep him from participating in the Olympic experience that he has rightfully earned,” his attorneys wrote in the complaint. “(USA Fencing) states that they are required to segregate Mr. Hadzic from the Olympic experience in order to ‘increase parties’ physical and emotional safety throughout an investigation, support a fair and neutral process, and aid in prevention of retaliatory behaviors from all parties.”
But the complaint notes that Hadzic is the only party in Tokyo involved in the investigation and argues the restrictions “are simply meant to sanction Mr. Hadzic for being involved in an ongoing investigation by SafeSport.”
Hadzic said he has been keeping to himself during team meals but that the reception was warmer than expected.
“I didn’t know what the atmosphere would be like until I came here, and then when I actually got to the training facility all of the coaches shook my hand and congratulated me on making the team,” Hadzic said. “All of the fencers that I thought would be afraid to speak with me, all came up to me and said hi. Even the women.”
One of the women who reported Hadzic for sexual misconduct did so in 2013 when both were attending Columbia and competing for the school’s fencing team, Hadzic confirmed. He was suspended from the school for a year as a result of a Title IX investigation.
Another woman said she told a SafeSport investigator that Hadzic groped her in 2015. The woman told USA TODAY Sports she and a female fencing teammate at Columbia were walking home when Hadzic pulled up in a car and asked them to come back to his place. She said she was aware of the previous sexual misconduct allegation against Hadzic and agreed to go to his place only because her friend wanted to go and she didn’t want her friend to be alone.
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USA TODAY Sports policy is to not identify individuals who allege sexual misconduct even in cases when the allegations do not rise to the level of a crime.
“I think one case is enough for you to not be allowed to compete at the f—— Olympics,” the second woman told USA TODAY Sports. “It really makes you question how far someone needs to go in order for them not to be able to compete.’’
Hadzic, who lives in New Jersey and since 2016 has represented the United States in multiple events, is the men’s epee replacement athlete. As an alternate, he will compete only if one of his teammates is unable to do so.
The men’s epee competition is set to begin Sunday.
Kris Ekeren, CEO of USA Fencing, said that USA Fencing did not have the authority to take action after SafeSport launched its investigation into Hadzic, according to the complaint that included contents of an email Ekeren sent to Hadzic July 13. Her email stated that SafeSport’s exclusive jurisdiction over the allegations prevents USA Fencing from conducting parallel disciplinary proceedings or imposing sanctions of its own that would prevent Hadzic from participating in the Tokyo Games.
“Nevertheless, 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,” read Ekeren’s email to Hadzic. “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 said staying at a hotel that’s a 25-minute drive from Olympic Village has undermined his experience and preparation.
“I don’t have that experience that I earned,” he said.