Coronavirus and fencing - keep calm, don't panic, follow good hygienic procedures and enjoy fencing!

Coronavirus is a big thing right now. It’s everywhere. You hear talks, you hear concerns, you have fear. It’s real panic, with people genuinely worried about the outcome and the safety of their families. It’s spread so quickly that it’s hard not to feel out of control about it. COVID-19 has spread across the globe in a mere matter of weeks, and as fencing is an international community it’s concerning of course to us. 

There are very few things you can do to calm this panic. For families, that can be disconcerting because it is our job to protect our children as well as ourselves, but something like a pandemic is not controllable. Some of the fear out there can get out of control, but this is also a real thing, and we recognize the real concerns that people have.

Remember, the people most at risk from this illness are mostly old people with compromised health. Strong, healthy fencers who are training for competition are not as likely to get sick. But they can carry the illness and spread it to those who are not able to fight it off so easily. That’s why safety measures are important for all of us. 

Efforts to avoid COVID-19

What measures can you take to stay healthy and to keep from spreading illnesses to others?

First off, we must say that we are not experts on the spread of disease and all recommendations here are the ones from the government health agencies. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States has issued guidelines about what things people should be doing in order to avoid spreading coronavirus, and many other organizations like schools and universities, as well as USA Fencing, are adapting those guidelines to their unique needs. That’s exactly what we’re doing. We want to follow closely the guidelines from our healthcare providers as much as possible. 

The theme is always the same. You do not need to panic, but you do need to take measures to stay healthy. The most important measures are the simplest:

  • Continuously washing hands. All the time. Preferably with antibacterial soap. Wash your hands with running water because that’s how we destroy the virus.
  • Avoid touching the nose, the eyes, the face in general. 
  • If you are sick, definitely stay home.
  • If you are coughing or sneezing, do it into your elbow or into a tissue.
  • Whenever you have any concerns, seek medical assistance from your healthcare provider. Don’t wait.

These are of course general guidelines. You’ve heard them already and you will hear them again. They are worth hearing over and over again precisely because they are so important. 

Impact of the coronavirus on fencing

Fencing is definitely its own thing. It’s its own sport that has specific aspects that are unique, and we are seeing unique reactions from people in the fencing community to the spread of the COVID-19. Where we are in Northern California, there is a great deal of concern among the community about the virus coming here.

One thing that is happening is that some people are just dropping from everything. They are signing off from upcoming competitions, canceling lessons, and all kinds of other things. This is of course their prerogative to do, but I think that this is taking it a bit far. It’s a panicked reaction, and there is no reason right now to panic. Accidents happen on the road every day, but we still drive. There are many other possible things that are more harmful potentially than this virus, but that we expose ourselves to every day anyway. It’s unknown and rumors that make some of the more intense reactions about panic instead of prevention.

We want to look at the real numbers and the spread of the virus. We don’t want to minimize it, but we don’t want to go overboard either. We don’t want to see whole cities get sick, but we don’t want people to have a negative impact from panicking either. It is very much about common sense and balance. 

The big organizations are looking at how this is going to impact the next several months as well, including whether these will be any impact on 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.The IOC has said that as of right now they are going to go on with the Games as planned, though they are already looking into additional preventative measures to keep the virus from spreading if it is still an issue this summer. Naturally, we are hopeful. Per latest USA Fencing update, all planned fencing competitions are going to be held as planned.

We definitely hope that it will stay that way and that people stay healthy. 

Preventing illness in fencing

Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands. 

Yes, we keep on saying that. When you get to the fencing club, wash your hands. When you go to the bathroom, wash your hands. Wash your hands when you eat, before and after. When you snack at the club between class and your fencing lesson. This is especially important for parents, who need to remind their kids about how they need to get into this good habit. 

There are other things that are specific to fencing though. Here are some of the things that you should be thinking about. 

Only use your own gear.

If you are doing fencing, you’re using fencing clothing. There are two pieces of gear that are the most important for you never to share, even if you cannot afford or don’t have access to complete individual gear:

  • glove 
  • mask

These two things should be first to own when you seriously start doing fencing – regardless of any virus, coronavirus or not, but just as a matter of normal, common-sense hygiene. You must have your own glove and mask, even if you have to get the mask secondhand and clean it so that it is yours.

The weapon is the other thing that you come into direct contact with, and it is best if you have your own weapon as well. 

This is a good opportunity to clean your equipment as well if you haven’t in a while. We have detailed guidelines on cleaning everything from the mask to the lame to the glove. Even if you have your own gear, it’s never bad to give it a spruce up and clean it. 

And an important reminder – mark all your fencing gear the way nobody will take it by mistake.

Shaking hands

It is customary for fencers to shake hands during our sport, after our matches or private lessons. No one is going to judge you harshly for not shaking hands right now. Which is again has nothing to do with coronavirus, but with any other situation when you are under the weather! You can salute, you can touch elbows, those kinds of greetings. 

It is not about the specific form that the greeting takes, it is about the sentiment of camaraderie that is behind it. Whatever form it takes, you’re going to be just fine.

Sweating under the mask

We sweat a lot under the fencing mask. This is a reality of the sport and just something that we have to contend with, coronavirus or no. 

Fencers often keep a towel near their strip so that they can wipe off their face and better concentrate on the match. It’s a good idea to move to a tissue that you can immediately discard.

This is a good tactic to practice right now anyway, because it will give you a way to blow or wipe your nose if you have a need. Just keep a pack of tissues in your knickers so that you are prepared. 

Club guidelines

Ask your club about their guidelines and if there is anything new that you should be aware of or that you can help out with.

Something that we are doing, in line what USA Fencing recommends, and that we hope other clubs are doing is to do additional daily wipe downs and disinfection of all of the commonly touched  surfaces in the club, such as door handles and knobs, restrooms, tables, sport equipment, etc.. We believe in focusing on common sense and reasonable precautions at ways to maintain a healthy environment and maximize facilities cleanliness.

Safety and sanity with sports and coronavirus

Right now, there is not a need to freak out about this. It’s easy to do that when there is a lack of concrete information, and right now there is a lack of concrete information out there about COVID-19. There is not a vaccine yet to prevent the disease, and there is not any way of knowing how it will spread. That is frustrating, but there is nothing that we can do about it unfortunately. 

Fencing is very much an international sport. We have people constantly going all over the world to compete and to train, which is something that we love about it. With this virus going all over the world right now at a fast pace, that makes fencing feel vulnerable. We understand. However we are not seeing anything right now that should cause us to go shut ourselves up at home and interrupt our training, our competitions, or our relationships with the sport. 

What we can do is to take control where we can. Do the things that we know from doctors are effective in preventing the spread of all kinds of viruses, and that will make us safer from everything in the process. You never know if this is going to be a big thing are not. It seems to change by the day. While it’s similar to the flu, it’s a different virus and that is scary because it is unknown.

The best thing that we can do is to remain grounded in the facts and to do our best to follow the guidelines from the experts. We pray that this will all pass with as few people infected as possible, because being sick or watching someone you love become ill is not what we want for anyone.

Stay safe! Happy handwashing and happy fencing.