— Published 23 August 2023

In fencing, helpers are a dime a dozen

Solidarity and support are no exception in the Olympic movement. They have become one of its pillars, a trend further reinforced by the health crisis.

In fencing, the movement is not new. For over ten years, its international body, the FIE, has been distributing aid to athletes, national federations and continental confederations as part of its annual development programs. The priority is to reach as many people as possible, and leave no one behind. FIE administrative director Elena Murdaca explains.

The athletes. They top the list. For their benefit, the Lausanne-based body has set up an ambitious participation and training assistance program. Remarkably, it concerns all countries, without exception.

On six occasions during the international season, the FIE will cover the travel and accommodation costs of one athlete per country competing in major tournaments. The program, launched in 2009 after the Beijing Games, covers the four continental championships (Europe, America, Africa and Asia/Oceania), as well as the Cadet/Junior and Senior World Championships.

As a bonus, the organization is financing the participation of around twenty fencers, mainly from countries where the discipline is still in the development phase, in the international training camp organized prior to the Cadet/Junior and Senior World Championships. Flight, accommodation, meals, visa… All taken care of. At the last cadet and junior world championships, held in April in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, two young athletes who had taken part in the FIE course – wearing the colors of the Virgin Islands and Taiwan – won medals. A real success story.

Training? It takes a hybrid form. Every year, before the world championships, the FIE offers athletes two webinars dedicated to anti-doping. At the helm are the body’s medical commission and the International Testing Agency (ITA). At the end of the year, it joins other international federations in a series of five further webinars devoted to the same anti-doping theme.

In parallel, in a less connected format, the FIE deploys stands at world championships – cadets/juniors then seniors – dedicated to some of its development programs, including fair play and protection. At the latest Senior World Championships, held in Milan in July, the FIE strengthened its presence with its first stand dedicated to sustainability and the environment.

National federations. The second pillar of the edifice. Every year, around one hundred of them, or two-thirds of the FIE’s member countries, receive assistance with fencing equipment. The choice of equipment is up to them. It may be for practice (weapons, breastplates, masks, pistes, etc.) or for organizing tournaments (scoring machines). Financial support is systematically granted to federations organizing a World Cup stage – for video refereeing – while organizers of Grand Prix or World Championship events are offered services and equipment for results display, TV graphics and other technical aspects.

Another ritual gesture is the payment of travel expenses – flight and two nights’ hotel accommodation – for one delegate per national federation to attend the annual FIE congress. This is held every year in November or December. In all, around 150 people benefit from this assistance.

Finally, the FIE provides partial or total funding for specific projects set up by member countries. In South Africa, for example, a course on fencing equipment repair was organized in September 2022 for five fencing federations on the continent, led by a French expert sent by the international body. In September 2021, a similar course was organized in Togo.

Confederations. Since 2015, the FIE has allocated an annual operating subsidy to its five continental confederations (Europe, America, Africa, Asia and Oceania). It also partially funds the body’s headquarters and website.

Last but not least, the training program for fencing masters. This is provided in the three academies opened by the FIE, in South Africa, Hungary and Oceania respectively.