After Hadzic narrowly missed a place on the US fencing team for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, he qualified for the Tokyo Games on May 7th. He smiled and showed a thumbs up gesture while being photographed for USA Fencing’s Instagram page. However, sexual misconduct allegations were soon posted on the site and elsewhere on social media accusing him of being a predator and a rapist.
Palma, his lawyer, said Hadzic never committed sexual assault and was never charged with rape or a civil or criminal complaint of sexual inappropriateness. Hadzic was suspended from Columbia for 2013-14 after a Title IX sexual consent investigation was conducted, Palma said. He called the process a “kangaroo court,” in which Hadzic was not allowed to call witnesses or submit character statements.
July 22, 2021, 6:41 p.m. ET
If Hadzic and his prosecutors can agree on anything in the current case, their lawyers will cite the flaws in SafeSport’s procedural system.
Although SafeSport has temporary or permanent penalties against about 1,500 people in Olympic sports, and its investigative capacity has grown considerably, it has been criticized over the years for lack of funding, staffing, transparency, and independence from the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committees.
“The system is broken,” said Palma.
Sexual misconduct allegations are initially considered true by SafeSport, although they can be refuted to protect those who might be victims. This put the defendant at a disadvantage, Palma said, noting that Hadzic was temporarily suspended without prior notice and with no possibility of defense. As can happen in such cases, Palma said the case was decided on social media before Hadzic had a chance to lift his suspension.
USA Fencing has known about the allegations against Hadzic for years, Palma said, but never imposed any restrictions on him until he was accepted into the Olympic team. USA Fencing declined to comment. If Hadzic’s accusers were so concerned about his behavior, Palma said, why didn’t they join SafeSport years ago instead of waiting for him to qualify for the Tokyo Games?
“The allegations are serious,” said Palma. “The fact is, they’re not true.”
Hadzic’s prosecutors, meanwhile, believe that he may be unfairly given the chance to compete and represent his country in the most important global presentation in the sport of fencing.