After narrowly missing a spot on the U.S. fencing team for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Hadzic qualified for the Tokyo Games on May 7. He smiled and gave a thumbs-up gesture while being photographed for U.S.A. Fencing’s Instagram page. Soon, though, accusations of sexual misconduct were posted on the page and elsewhere on social media, accusing him of being a predator and a rapist.
Palma, his lawyer, said Hadzic had never committed a sexual assault and had never been charged with rape or with any civil or criminal complaint involving sexual impropriety. Hadzic was suspended from Columbia for the 2013-14 year after a Title IX investigation involving sexual consent, Palma said. He called the proceeding a “kangaroo court” in which Hadzic was not allowed to call witnesses or present character statements.
If Hadzic and his accusers in the current case can agree on anything, it is what their lawyers call the shortcomings of SafeSport’s procedural system.
Although SafeSport has levied temporary or permanent penalties against about 1,500 people in Olympic-related sports, and its investigative ability has grown considerably, it has faced criticism over the years for a lack of funding, staffing, transparency and independence from the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
“The system is broken,” Palma said.
Accusations of sexual misconduct, though subject to rebuttal, are initially considered by SafeSport to be true as a means of protecting those who might be victims. That puts the accused at a disadvantage, Palma said, noting that Hadzic was temporarily suspended without notice and without a chance to defend himself. As can happen in such cases, Palma said, the case was adjudicated on social media before Hadzic had an opportunity to overturn his suspension.
U.S.A. Fencing knew of the accusations against Hadzic for years, Palma said, but never placed any restrictions on him until he made the Olympic team. U.S.A. Fencing declined to comment. If Hadzic’s accusers were so concerned about his behavior, Palma said, why didn’t they go to SafeSport years ago instead of waiting until he qualified for the Tokyo Games?
“The allegations are serious,” Palma said. “The fact is, they’re not true.”
Hadzic’s accusers, meanwhile, feel he is unjustly being given a chance to potentially compete and represent his country in fencing’s premier global showcase.