Russian neutral athlete Iana Bekmurzova reached the women's épée round-of-64 at the FIE Fencing World Championships ©Getty Images

Russian athlete Iana Bekmurzova, competing as a neutral, reached the women's épée round-of-64 on the first day of the International Fencing Federation (FIE) Fencing World Championships in Milan.

The FIE controversially decided to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to its competitions in March, even before the International Olympic Committee (IOC) lifted its advised outright ban implemented due to the invasion of Ukraine.

FIE events in Germany, Poland and France have been cancelled since the FIE decision and individual competitions at the Kraków-Małopolska 2023 European Games were stripped of their ranking status, but Italy opted to allow Russian and Belarusian athletes to compete as individual neutrals at the World Championships.

However, only 11 of the 39 athletes registered by Russia and Belarus were permitted to compete, with several leading fencers among those excluded due to the IOC recommendations blocking those affiliated to the military or who have supported the war in Ukraine.

Bekmurzova is 186th in the FIE women's épée world rankings, but ranked ninth in the preliminary round with five wins in her pool to reach the knockout phases at the Milan Convention Centre.

Canada's Leonora Mackinnon is set to be her opponent in the round-of-64.

Polina Khaertdinova was the other Russian neutral athlete competing in the women's épée, but ranked 60th from the preliminary round with four wins from six matches and then lost 15-12 to Switzerland's Angela Krieger in the round-of-128.

Ukrainian athletes are boycotting categories in which Russian and Belarusian athletes are competing.

Four Ukrainian competitors in Dzhoan Feybi Bezhura, Inna Brovko, Vlada Kharkova and Darja Varfolomyeyeva appeared as late entries in the women's épée despite Bekmurzova and Khaertdinova competing.

However, none of them ultimately started the competition.

Top seed Vivian Kong of Hong Kong is set to start against Venezuela's María Martínez on Tuesday (July 25) in the round-of-64, with reigning world champion Song Se-ra of South Korea also facing a Venezuelan opponent in Lizzie Asis.

There was no Russian or Belarusian athlete participation in the men's sabre, and three of the four competing Ukrainian athletes reached the round-of-64.

Former European Games champion Andriy Yahodka ranked 15th with six wins from six in the preliminary round to set up a round-of-64 tie against Musa Aymuratov of Uzbekistan, and his compatriot Vasyl Humen ranked 14th with five victories out of five to reach the knockout phase against Yousef Alshamlan of Kuwait.

Ukraine's Andriy Yahodka reached the round-of- 64 in the men's sabre competition ©Getty Images
Ukraine's Andriy Yahodka reached the round-of- 64 in the men's sabre competition ©Getty Images

Yuriy Tsap is the other Ukrainian athlete in the round-of-64 against Germany's Matyas Szabo, after he ranked 61st in the preliminary round with three wins from five, then beat Saudi Arabia's Mohammed Alamr 15-11 and Venezuela's Eliecer Romero 15-10.

Oleksiy Statsenko was the other competing Ukrainian fencer and placed 64th with three wins from five in the preliminaries.

He then overcame Greece's Dimitris Kafataridis 15-8, but missed out on the round-of-64 after a 15-6 defeat to European Games bronze medallist William Deary of Britain.

Top seed Sandro Bazadze of Georgia, the back-to-back European champion, is set to start on Tuesday (July 25) against Luis Bonah of Germany.

Three-time Olympic and defending world champion Áron Szilágyi of Hungary is seeded second, and is due to play Bazadze's brother Beka Bazadze in his opener.

The Fencing World Championships is set to continue tomorrow with the start of the women's foil and men's épée competitions.