With less than 600 days to go before the Paris 2024 Games, fencing is not hiding its impatience. The next Olympic and Paralympic event promises to be historic for the discipline, with an iconic competition site – the Grand Palais – and the full weight of French tradition and culture.
At the helm of the International Fencing Federation (FIE) is the Greek Emmanuel Katsiadakis (photo above). Former fencer, then referee and manager, he is the interim president since last March. He answered the questions of FrancsJeux.
FrancsJeux: How is the International Fencing Federation (FIE) today?
Emmanuel Katsiadakis: The federal organization, the financial aspect and the sporting situation are in order. During the 2021-2022 season, the international calendar was able to resume its cruising speed, we were able to relaunch the competitions in all geographical zones, in Europe, in Asia, in the Pan-American zone. The Grand Prix, the World Cup and the World Championships have been successfully organized. And the new season is already well underway. At the same time, we have been able to resume our development and support programs for athletes, coaches and fencing stakeholders. In particular, the “Donate your fencing gear” program, a unique initiative to develop our sport around the world, is fully operational again. We can now fully concentrate on the Olympic Games in Paris 2024.
You became interim president of the FIE in March last year. What was your priority then?
I took office at a difficult time for fencing and for the FIE. My priority, and that of the Executive Committee, was to ensure the smooth running of the FIE, and above all to allow the athletes to continue their activities and remain focused on their sporting goals. I feel that we have succeeded in doing so. Throughout this period, the fencing community has shown unity, cooperation and a great deal of solidarity.
A little less than twelve months later, as we enter the last year before the Paris 2024 Games, where do you want to take the FIE?
We want to continue our efforts to promote fencing, while maintaining the unique place that our sport occupies in the Olympic movement. In Paris next year, as at the Tokyo 2020 Games, all the medal events of our world championships will be present in the Olympic program. Twelve events, twelve Olympic titles. But fencing remains a sport that is sometimes difficult to access for the uninitiated. A very technical and fast sport. We are working hard to make it more visible, to attract a new public and to share with them all that our disciplines can bring, both physically and mentally. Fencing has seen remarkable growth on social media and television. We are determined to continue this growth and gain even more popularity. I also want to look to the youth. A new generation of fencers is emerging. We will help them get even closer to the top.
How do you hope to continue the development of fencing in the world, especially in regions where the discipline is not based on a strong tradition?
The time has passed when fencing was mainly an important sport in Europe. Gradually, fencing has gained new territories. Today, our sport is everywhere. It is very strong in Asia. It has conquered America. It is developing in Africa. But we have to go to new countries. This is one of our major objectives for the years to come. To do this, we will rely on the strength, dynamism and collaboration of our 155 federations. Now is the time for ingenuity and innovation. We must do a better job of selling the strengths and values of our sport, its unique combination of athletic and mental qualities.
Can the Paris 2024 Games, held in a great fencing country, with an iconic venue – the Grand Palais – mark a new turn for fencing?
I have no doubt about that. The Paris 2024 Games are shaping up to be a fantastic event for our sport. The Grand Palais has already hosted the World Fencing Championships in 2010. The event was a huge success. The upcoming Olympic and Paralympic Games place us in a very favorable position to further accelerate our development, with twelve medal events and an emblematic venue. They will give us an incredible platform to gain popularity.
You have been an athlete, then a referee, and finally an official, at the national and international level. Could you imagine yourself one day holding the position of President of the FIE?
I don’t like to talk about myself. I prefer work and action to words. My journey in fencing started 65 years ago. During these years, I have had all kinds of experiences, as a young fencer, then as an experienced athlete, as a referee at the national level, then in the biggest competitions, as a sports leader… I feel very honored to have accomplished a rich and varied course, to have lived so many unforgettable moments, met so many incredible people and gained friends for life. Taking on the position of Interim President of the FIE today gives me a new opportunity to serve my sport. I am determined to do everything I can to ensure the best future for fencing, which is my life.