An Elite Fencer Under Investigation For Sexual Assault For More Than A Year Is Still Allowed To Compete

After more than a year of investigating Alen Hadzic, the elite fencer who went to the Olympics last year despite multiple allegations of sexual assault, the US Center for SafeSport finally issued a development in the case: a no-contact directive between the athlete and the victims, meaning he is still able to compete while the inquiry continues, according to documents exclusively obtained by BuzzFeed News.

On Friday, SafeSport, the independent organization responsible for investigating sexual abuse claims, told Hadzic that he could not communicate in any way with the six victims, nor could he stay in the same hotel or housing as “any female athletes or coaches of the US delegation.” Furthermore, Hadzic also has to have a chaperone.

Ironically, SafeSport’s temporary measures mirror the safety plan already put in place by USA Fencing for nearly a year. Frustrated by SafeSport’s lack of action in the case, the governing body took matters into its own hands and implemented boundaries around Hadzic during competitions.

“Today’s announcement by the Center reinforces existing measures already in place by USA Fencing to protect our athletes, coaches and staff at tournaments,” USFA officials told BuzzFeed News in a statement.

After a decision from an independent arbitrator, Hadzic has been allowed to continue competing at protected events while SafeSport continues investigating his case. The center said that while that is ongoing, “temporary measures are a tool utilized by the Center to protect sport participants while it conducts investigations to ensure they are thorough, professional, and comprehensive.”

At least six women filed claims of sexual misconduct, including rape, with the US Center for SafeSport. BuzzFeed News previously reported how, in spite of women repeatedly speaking up, Hadzic was able to reach the highest levels of his sport. The case became another example of the organization’s struggles to protect athletes after it took over abuse and misconduct investigations from individual sports organizations in 2017 due to revelations of the widespread failings within USA Gymnastics.

One of them, Sinead Macleod, said Hadzic had sex with her when she was a minor in high school despite repeatedly saying no. In her first time going public with her accusation, she told BuzzFeed News that she felt SafeSport’s process made her feel unprotected.

“It is apparent to me from both SafeSport’s lack of transparency and its lack of urgency in its, frankly, dysfunctional investigative process,” Macleod said. “I haven’t been asked any follow-up questions since my interview a year ago. that Safesport does not serve victims.”

Hadzic has vehemently denied all allegations against him. At the Olympics last summer, he tried to appeal USA Fencing’s safety plan, but an independent arbitrator sided with the fencing organization and athletes. He did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.

A source familiar with SafeSport’s investigation into Hadzic defended the center’s process, pointing out that it “has held many people accountable — more than every sport combined in their history — in its five years of operation.” They also said investigators have spent countless hours on the case and use a trauma-informed approach when interviewing victims to minimize the number of times they have to follow up with questions.

Attorney Jack Wiener, who is representing Macleod and two other women in the matter, called the latest development “outrageous.”

“Six women tell SafeSport that he abused them,” he said. “Yet a year and a half later this is the best that SafeSport can muster? As he freely goes to fencing clubs, attended by teenage girls? And is allowed to represent the USA in next week’s World Championships? What an abject failure of SafeSport’s obligation to fulfill its mission.”

Hadzic’s investigation has dragged on for more than a year and the athlete was able to participate in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Despite efforts from USA Fencing last fall to bar Hadzic from participating in competitions, the 29-year-old elite from Montclair, New Jersey, made it onto the US team as an individual and has fenced in about 10 major international and domestic events since his contentious appearance at the Olympics, much to the frustration and dismay of referees, coaches, and other athletes. In several competitions, two sources within USA Fencing told BuzzFeed News that referees refused to oversee his events.

The case gained national attention last summer after women athletes began speaking out against Hadzic’s ability to represent his country. It became a rallying cry for reforms and caused unprecedented uproar and backlash during last year’s Games and again highlighted the holes between SafeSport and Olympic governing bodies.

USA Fencing last July acknowledged to BuzzFeed News it had known for eight years that Hadzic was suspended from his university after an investigation into a fencing teammate’s accusation of sexual assault. In a statement to BuzzFeed News, the organization explained that it did not take action at the time because its policies did not require it to do so.

In a statement to its athletes and members last May when Hadzic made the 2022 Senior World Team, USA Fencing expressed its frustration with SafeSport’s handling of the case.

“We had hoped for a swifter resolution to this investigation, which has now stretched on for more than a year. We share in the frustration of fencers and fencing fans,” the governing body wrote. “As long as the outcome of this investigation remains unresolved, USA Fencing is obligated to allow Hadzic to compete internationally.”

During last summer’s Olympics, BuzzFeed News reported that Hadzic was allowed to travel to Tokyo as an alternate on the men’s épée team despite an ongoing investigation into serious accusations of sexual misconduct by several women, including a teammate. Though SafeSport initially suspended him, an arbitrator ruled in Hadzic’s favor and allowed him to take the coveted spot on Team USA. His presence caused an uproar in the fencing community and among his teammates, who unanimously signed a statement calling for him to be banned for their safety and well-being.

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