Three fencers on the men’s US Olympic team were wearing pink masks when they arrived Friday in Tokyo for their opening match against Japan.
But the coordinated masks weren’t a coincidence; they were a planned protest by the trio against a teammate who is accused of sexual assault, sources close to the team told BuzzFeed News.
Photos shared on social media showed three of the four athletes on the men’s épée team — Jake Hoyle, Curtis McDowald, and Yeisser Ramirez — wearing pink masks, while teammate Alen Hadzic — who is under investigation for sexual assault — wore a black one.
“The disdain was clear,” one source told BuzzFeed News.
“They decided to make a statement that they were not standing for him being there,” said another fencing athlete not competing in the Tokyo Olympics. “They wanted to make a distinction between themselves that they didn’t stand for sexual assault or abuse against women. These athletes wanted to have a voice where US Fencing and SafeSport failed.”
Despite facing at least three allegations of past sexual misconduct, Hadzic was picked as an alternate on the men’s épée team for the 2020 Olympics, causing dismay and outrage among Team USA fencers, as detailed in a BuzzFeed News investigation.
His inclusion prompted six women fencers, including two Olympic athletes, to urge the International Olympic Committee not to allow him to represent the US; his presence, they said, was a “direct affront” to fellow athletes and put them at risk.
“We are gravely concerned about the impact Mr. Hadzic’s potential presence will have on other Team USA athletes,” the women wrote on May 20.
While the US Center for SafeSport, the nonprofit agency responsible for protecting athletes from abuse, suspended Hadzic from the Olympics last month due to the investigation, he fought to get his prohibition lifted through an arbitration process.
USA Fencing created a “safety plan” to keep Hadzic away from women and out of the Olympic Village, which included him traveling and staying separately from his teammates.
He was also forbidden from practicing with women teammates.
Hadzic has denied the allegations of sexual misconduct, telling USA Today that “they’re untruths.” His attorney, Michael Palma, told the New York Times that his client had never committed any acts of sexual assault.
USA Fencing did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the pink masks.
But the stunt earned praise from US fencer and 2016 Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad.
“Kudos to the team for taking a stand,” she tweeted on Friday.
While Hadzic did not participate on Friday, the team lost to Japan and came in ninth.