LAUSANNE: The International Fencing Federation (FIE) on Saturday decided to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete in Olympic qualifying events, sparking outrage in Ukraine. Fencing became the first Olympic sport to reopen events to fencers from the two nations, one year after their exclusion due to the war in Ukraine. After the decision at an extraordinary congress in Lausanne, Ukraine’s fencing body was in “shock” while their Russian counterparts expressed “gratitude”. Fencing’s qualifying process for the 2024 Paris Olympics is due to begin in April. FIE’s decision will take effect from April “subject to possible recommendations or future decisions of the International Olympic Committee (IOC),” a delegate told AFP. Athletes could qualify and still be barred by the IOC from the Games. Around 65 percent of FIE voted for the return to competition of Russian and Belarusian athletes, teams and officials, the delegate who did not wish to be named said. “We are deeply shocked and outraged by this decision and we immediately convene a meeting of the Presidium to decide our response to the decision of the FIE and its possible appeal,” the Ukrainian Fencing Federation said in a statement. Their Russian counterparts welcomed the decision. “The first step has been taken. I am grateful to colleagues from foreign federations,” Ilgar Mamedov, president of the Russian Fencing Federation, was quoted as saying by the Ria Novosti news agency. The Ukrainian delegation had sought to have the vote removed from the congress agenda but the request was turned down by the 136 voters.