A common question that I get from fencing parents is this one: “Which fencing weapon is the most prestigious?”
It makes sense in a way. It’s a kind of logical question when you think about it, because these people don’t know a whole lot about fencing, and so they’re trying to make sense of something that they don’t have a reference for. They know that there are three different weapons. They know that their child is going to have to choose one. They want to guide their kids in the right direction, but they don’t know at all how to do it. So they ask questions that make sense to them. It’s a good thing.
Which one is it? Is it epee, foil, or sabre? Which fencing weapon is the most prestigious? It’s a big question that there must be an answer to! People who are new to fencing rightly want to have some understanding.
This is a hugely controversial topic. Everyone seems to have an opinion on it, and those opinions can be shouted loudly as well as whispered quietly. We’re not here to wade into the fray of who’s right and what the ramifications should be, we just want to let our readers know what’s going on and how it relates to fencing. This is an area that not everyone knows a lot about, and so making sense of it can be tough. We’re here to help you make sense of it!
This is going to be a huge topic of conversation going into the 2020 Olympics next summer, but remember that the ramifications of these decisions by WADA reach out to all international competitions.
What brought on the ban for Russia
It doesn’t take a great deal for an individual athlete to get banned from competing in international sport. A single positive test result that is verified for a banned substance is enough to get you removed from the competition. The consequences get bigger every time you’re caught doping, escalating all the way to a lifetime ban from international competition.
What makes the Russian case unique is that it involved a systematic doping policy that was driven by the officials behind sport in that country. We are not talking about a single individual or a group of individuals who did this, we’re talking about an organization.
This whole thing is nothing new. The Russian team was censured for this same reason in the 2018 Olympics in Korea. Many athletes did not compete under the Russian flag. When the hockey team won gold, they and members of the crowd actually drowned out the sound of the Olympic theme when it was playing – that’s how loud they were singing! The country also had many of its medals stripped following the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia because of doping.
The allegations of state-sponsored, organized doping by Russia go back to 2012 and a lab that purportedly altered hundreds of test results. The whole situation has become highly politicized, with the Russian government offering a feisty and sustained defense.
Getting kicked out of a match is something that many fencers have thankfully never experienced. In fencing, the black card is the method that officials use to remove a fencer from competition when they break the code of honor. Severe offences mean an ejection in fencing. While sport is at its heart about good will and good sportsmanship, unfortunate events like ejections do happen.
After the USA Fencing strengthened its protocols on the black card a few weeks ago, it’s been on a lot of people’s minds. Black cards are serious, and they are necessary. Bad behavior or dangerous actions should never be tolerated by the fencing community, or any sport. The new protocols emphasize the seriousness of the black card offense.
With all this thinking about the black card, we started thinking about how ejection plays out in other sports. Events like the Olympics and World Cups have had a fascinating history of players being removed from matches. Fencing has some remarkable stories too.
The black card is the end of the road for an athlete in a competition. It marks the definitive and negative end of competition for a fencer, or for any athlete. It’s not even a loss, though the opponent technically gets a win. A black card is worse than a loss, because it is not a measure of athletic skill or prowess. It’s a demonstration that the athlete could not hold up the code of honor within the sport.
A black card ejects an athlete from competition for egregious behavior.
To be clear, this behavior does not have to be vile or violent. An athlete can get a black card for not showing up to the match on time or for leaving the match early. If they simply stop participating, for any of a number of reasons, they can get a black card.
It’s notable that the black card is not just for athletes. Coaches, spectators, and even referees (in theory) can get a black card and get ejected from a match. If a parent is disruptive, even if it is through overly loud and inappropriate cheering or repeatedly getting too close to the strip during the match and not following a referee’s instruction, they can be ejected from the tournament with a black card.
Regional path qualification for Fencing Summer Nationals is an important path to the big competition. It’s a path that offers what I think is one of the most accessible ways to get to Fencing Summer Nationals, and it’s a way that I encourage my fencers to pursue.
Strategizing for regional qualification is important! To make it to Fencing Summer Nationals is no easy task, and it’s one that requires thinking ahead. If you plan things out smartly and with the help of some good advice, well you can make everything not only possible, but a lot easier.
Fencing is a very safe sport, actually one of the safest. But as with any physical activity, especially those that involve swinging swords, it is up to fencers and everyone else in the venue to ensure the safety.