A Polish Olympian Aimed to Join Team U.S.A. Things Got Ugly.

Written by on February 23, 2020

As an 11-year-old in Poland, Aleksandra Shelton noticed her mom competing in a fencing competitors on tv. Intrigued by the game and the attract of additionally showing on TV sometime, she constructed a saber fencing profession that far surpassed her mom’s aspirations.

A decade later, Shelton received a bronze medal on the 2003 world championships. Then she took gold on the 2004 and 2008 European championships. She has competed up to now 4 Olympics for Poland. And he or she anticipated that this summer time in Tokyo she would grow to be solely the fourth Polish lady — and in regards to the 220th lady worldwide — to take part in 5 or extra Video games.

However Shelton, a twin citizen who’s married to an American serviceman, encountered what she stated was age and gender discrimination from Polish fencing officers after the start of her first little one three years in the past. So she made a determined try at nation-switching, hoping to go to her fifth Video games as an American. Poland, nonetheless, has blocked the change, trapping Shelton between the 2 international locations, leaving her unable as of now to compete in Tokyo for both.

Sandwiched by the heated politics of athletes’ rights and the baroque guidelines of Olympic eligibility, she is dealing with the sporting problems that may confront girls who grow to be moms.

“After each storm, there must be a sunny day,” Shelton, who turns 38 subsequent month, stated in a phone interview. “However it’s been greater than two years of heavy rain.”

Shelton stated Polish fencing officers started to cut back assist for her as soon as she grew to become pregnant after the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She gave start to a son in 2017.

“She felt she was an expired product of their eyes,” stated Carlos Sayao, Shelton’s Toronto-based lawyer.

Pissed off, Shelton sought a distinct path to her fifth Olympics, and an opportunity to win an elusive first medal. She has competed as an American since January 2019. However right here the story will get sophisticated.

To forestall mass nation-hopping, athletes typically should wait three years after altering international locations to compete in an Olympic Video games, until they obtain a particular waiver.

A yr in the past, the matter appeared all however resolved in Shelton’s favor earlier than combusting in recrimination in the course of the spring and summer time. In September, the Polish Olympic Committee declined to grant her an exemption to compete in Tokyo as an American. And since she has already switched nationwide affiliations as soon as, she will be able to’t compete for Poland anymore. The Polish Olympic Committee declined to remark for this text.

Shelton has appealed her case to the Swiss-based Courtroom of Arbitration for Sport, a sort of Supreme Courtroom for worldwide sports activities. No listening to date has been set, and time is rising quick. The USA Olympic fencing workforce can be chosen in April.

The case has obtained widespread consideration in Poland, the place the nationwide federations that govern numerous sports activities function with near-complete autonomy and might exert great management over the careers of athletes.

Internationally, the oversight of sports activities governing our bodies has come underneath intense scrutiny, together with in the US, the place latest sexual abuse scandals have rocked a number of sports activities, notably gymnastics and determine skating. In Poland final fall, Witold Banka, a former sports activities minister, described the highest administration of the nation’s sports activities federations as being “like a most cancers that’s destroying Polish sport.”

Two high officers of the Polish fencing federation stated in a joint e mail that that they had not discarded Shelton after she gave start, however as an alternative had thought-about her the chief of the Polish girls’s saber workforce heading towards the Tokyo Olympics.

They expressed suspicion that her effort to compete for the US was rooted in technique, not unfair therapy, after Poland’s failure to win any medals on the 2018 world fencing championships. The officers — Ryszard Sobczak and Tadeusz Tomaszewski — referred to as Shelton’s accusations “unfaithful and filled with slander.”

Shelton tells a distinct story. When she grew to become pregnant, she stated, Polish fencing officers prevented her from changing into the top saber coach at a distinguished membership in Warsaw. Their declare, she stated, was that she lacked expertise, despite the fact that she had competed in 4 Olympics.

Her coach on the time acknowledged in an interview that being pregnant was “an element” within the choice as a result of the teaching put up would have required frequent journey and elevated calls for on Shelton’s time.

After Shelton gave start, she stated, the Polish fencing federation reneged on a promise to offer a physiotherapist to assist her get again into aggressive form. Officers additionally declined, she stated, to let her proceed to coach in Portland, Ore., a hub of American fencing, the place Shelton has lived half time since 2010.

Whereas nothing was stated to her face by fencing officers, Shelton stated she heard not directly from colleagues that the Polish federation felt “I’m too previous, I ought to keep at house.”

Ultimately, Shelton stated, the Polish fencing federation appeared to sabotage her means to proceed competing for the Polish military workforce, inflicting her to lose her navy retirement advantages. The federation strongly denied this, saying the military workforce remained out there solely to fencers nonetheless competing internationally for Poland. Broadly talking, the federation officers wrote of their e mail that Shelton was trying to “manipulate the information to suit her narrative.”

Regardless of latest struggles, Poland’s 22 Olympic fencing medals (19 received by males, three by girls) rank seventh amongst competing nations. Particular person and workforce competitions are held in épée, foil and saber occasions.

“She just isn’t in a form that will permit her to compete in particular person occasions, however in the US she might compete as a part of their workforce,” stated Piotr Stroka, who coached Shelton in Warsaw and disagreed along with her choice to pursue a nationality change.

Stroka dismissed claims of discrimination, saying that Polish feminine fencers are “maybe handled even higher than males.” In Shelton’s case, he stated, the federation “did every little thing it might for her.”

But it isn’t uncommon for pregnant girls in Olympic sports activities to search out themselves in a deprived place. Nike, as an example, confronted withering criticism final yr from American observe stars sponsored by the corporate for decreasing performance-based funds surrounding the interval of childbirth. Dealing with a backlash, the sportswear big amended its coverage.

In Poland, sports activities federations typically have additionally endured searing rebuke. Banka, the previous Polish sports activities minister who’s now president of the World Anti-Doping Company, instructed a radio interviewer in November that federations there are sometimes “managed by irresponsible individuals who run them in an unethical manner.”

After the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Sylwia Gruchala, a two-time Olympic fencing medalist for Poland, publicly stated the nation’s fencing federation was incompetent and didn’t sufficiently assist its athletes. After agreeing to an interview for this text, she modified her thoughts, saying, “I’ve a very good life now and don’t need to begin a conflict.”

Shelton’s case appeared on the verge of an amicable decision early final yr. U.S.A. Fencing and the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee supported her in official requests to modify nationalities. The Polish fencing federation gave her a launch for Olympic eligibility as an American. All she wanted to grow to be eligible for the Tokyo Video games was a remaining waiver from the Polish Olympic Committee.

However in March, Shelton, feeling exasperated by what she thought-about foot-dragging, publicly criticized the Polish fencing federation. Amongst different issues, she questioned the ethics of requiring her to conform to pay 43,000 euros, almost $47,000, in money or fencing tools to safe her launch.

The Polish federation stated the cost was essential to recuperate coaching prices it had incurred for Shelton for the reason that 2016 Olympics. In any other case, officers stated, they might have primarily been subsidizing an American athlete. Hubert Radke, a Polish sports activities lawyer not concerned within the case, stated that Polish sports activities federations impose monetary boundaries and different rules that continuously prohibit the liberty of athletes. Finally, the cost settlement fell aside.

Her feedback infuriated Polish fencing officers, and so they demanded an apology and threatened to sue Shelton. The fencing federation urged the Polish Olympic Committee to not grant her the discharge wanted to compete for the US in Tokyo. On Sept. 10, the committee complied. This month, the fencing federation stated that Shelton’s conduct was “reprehensible and unworthy of an athlete.”

Shelton stated, “They only need to destroy me.”

The uncertainty continues, honest or not.

Radke, the unbiased sports activities lawyer, stated the matter appeared black and white. “I don’t see any justified causes to disclaim her proper to compete.”

Joanna Berendt contributed reporting from Warsaw.


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