Content warning: This story contains depictions of sexual misconduct.
USA Fencing is still dealing with the fallout after allowing Alen Hadzic to take part in the Tokyo Olympics. A number of fencing executives have resigned following a disastrous August meeting to address sexual misconduct allegations in the sport, according to Bradford William Davis of Business Insider.
The meeting, which was called by USA Fencing president Peter Burchard, was meant to focus on Hadzic. The Olympian was allowed to take part in the Tokyo games despite sexual misconduct allegations. That decision drew criticism from other fencers, including Hadzic's own teammates, who protested his inclusion on the team by wearing pink masks before an event.
Burchard reportedly viewed the meeting as an opportunity to address the Hadzic situation, but the rest of the board did not agree. Seven of the nine board members voted against the meeting. It still proceeded, and parents and athletes criticized the board for its handling of Hadzic and other allegations of sexual misconduct and assault around the sport.
USA Fencing executive director Kris Ekeren responded to a concerned parent, who alleged their daughter was touched inappropriately by a coach, by blaming parents for not reading emails sent by SafeSport. Ekeren also reportedly said she wasn't "going to engage in this gotcha game" when talking about those allegations.
A month after that meeting, Ekeren, along with communications director Nicole Jomantas and general counsel Jim Neale have all resigned.
USA Fencing reportedly knew about Alen Hadzic allegations for years
Ekeren, who will continue to serve in her role until November, reportedly knew about the Hadzic allegations in 2013. That year, Hadzic — who was still in college —was accused of sexual assault by a student and fencer at Columbia University. A Title IX investigation determined Hadzic was "responsible." When the accuser's attorney reached out to Ekeren about Hadzic's participation in fencing events, Ekeren said she could not intervene.
Other fencers, like 2012 bronze medalist Courtney Hurley, knew of Hadzic's reputation, and were mystified when Hadzic was allowed to continue taking part in events.
"At every World Cup we were like, 'How was he allowed to be here?'" Hurley said. She told Insider that she and her sister, four-time Olympian Kelly Hurley, did their best to stay clear of Hadzic years before the misconduct allegations went public. "If we knew," Hurley reasoned, "then that means everyone knows."
Ereken was also accused of mishandling other instances of misconduct, including a referee who claimed a coach grabbed the ref by her rear end and a fencer who said a coach invited the fencer to sit on the coach's lap.
Alen Hadzic furious over allegations
Hadzic, who has denied all allegations, said he believes he's being targeted due to his success in the sport. Hadzic was suspended by SafeSport in June, but his suspension was lifted after an appeal. Hadzic reportedly said he had a "s*** ton of evidence that showed that these girls were trying to make a story."
Hadzic was reportedly furious over restrictions at the Tokyo games. Hadzic was not allowed to stay at Olympic Village due to the allegations. Hadzic appealed, but was denied. That reportedly angered Hadzic.
He also confronted teammates who wore pink masks in protest of Hadzic being an alternate on the team. Hadzic reportedly said those teammates "will be sorry" and "will all pay" for believing the allegations were true.
Jim Neale reportedly told witness to stop cooperating
Neale — who said he resigned to prepare for a new job — is accused of telling a witness to stop cooperating with the SafeSport investigation into Hadzic.
The investigation focused on Hadzic disappearing for two days following a 2019 event. The witness was reportedly a friend of Hadzic, and became concerned about the questions being asked by SafeSport. That witness asked Neale what to do, and was reportedly advised to stop cooperating, three sources told Business Insider.
Neale denied giving that advice.
Two weeks after the August meeting, USA Fencing held another meeting in which members told Burchard the organization was "being proactive" regarding sexual misconduct and assault allegations. Hurley doesn't believe meaningful changes will happen, comparing USA Fencing's response to how USA Gymnastics handled the Larry Nassar situation.