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USA Fencing Town Hall Report

05/22/2020, 6:45pm CDT
By Nicole Jomantas

The USA Fencing Board of Directors and National Office Staff held a town hall meeting on Tuesday to inform the fencing community of news within USA Fencing as well as answer questions that were submitted from the membership. 

Updates were given from board members and National Office Staff on topics such as membership, sports performance and national events, including the announcement that an update regarding the status of the USA Fencing National Championships and July Challenge will be made by June 1. In addition, there will be an FIE meeting the first week in June with updates regarding the status of international fencing events to follow.

The following is a summary of questions, answers and reports from the town hall meeting:

National Events Q&A

Q: What is the timeline for an announcement regarding Summer Nationals?

A: USA Fencing will announce a decision on Summer Nationals by June 1. We have submitted a plan to the state of Kentucky that they are reviewing. We also sent out a survey to tournament officials as well as all competitive members last week to gauge interest in returning to competition and what the membership would like in order to improve the safety of our events. We received more than 3,000 responses and are reviewing the feedback currently. One of the many benefits of the survey is that we have been able to hear a significant amount of feedback from membership and it was important for us to hear directly from those competing what their exact concerns and comfort level is in attending Summer Nationals as well as other local, regional and national events moving forward. Among the issues we heard were ensuring enough training time once certain regions begin to open back up to concerns regarding masks during tournaments. We are taking all of that into consideration as we implement event plans for the future.

Q: Looking forward to the 2020-21 schedule, what is the current plan for the season?

A: USA Fencing has been working on all possibilities over the last two months. Knowing the likelihood of a lower attendance we’ve researched how a 50-75% attendance rate impacts our event structures, both nationally and regionally. We have also begun to see how states are going to re-open once again allowing sports and larger gatherings and are working on how that will apply to USA Fencing events. We have been working with the local CVBs and Sports Commissions with the expectation of lower attendance and we do have signed contracts with each of the cities, but because of our great partnerships we’re all working together to ensure successful event under any situation. We also wanted to assess how the USA Fencing membership and tournament staff felt about attending events in the coming months and sent out a survey last week to gather that information.

In addition, we are putting together a group from all areas of the fencing community with representatives from the National Office, board of directors, Referees’ Commission, and Tournament Committee as well as coaches, club owners, athletes and regional event organizers. This group will look at the structure of our national tournaments and the best way forward for fencing as a whole in regards to events.

Q:  How do you plan to handle current national points if Summer Nationals or the autumn NACs are postponed?

A: In the event that events are postponed or cancelled, the National Office Staff will work with the Tournament Committee, Sports Performance Resource Team and athlete representatives in order to develop a plan for the transition of past points onto future rankings

Q: Travel restrictions are likely to remain in place for some time and many members may be hesitant to get on an airplane, stay in hotels, and eat at restaurants in host cities. Are there going to be any adjustments to national events given these issues?

A: We are working closely with our CVBs, Sports Commission, and hotel partners across the country to ensure that each city will have the health and safety protocols locally prior to any event hosted in a city. That includes the airport, hotels, and restaurants. Many cities are in their beginning phases of this reopening process and are re-opening at this time. We understand and share those concerns so it’s definitely something we’re aware of at the National Office. Prior to any tournament, we will be sure to direct attendees to any local restrictions and guidelines as they will vary throughout the country.

Q: With social distancing being highly encouraged in all public places, what is USA Fencing doing to ensure the safety of all attendees?

A: The Tournament Committee is looking at the idea of having a maximum number of participants at local, regional, and national level based upon local, state and federal guidelines for large gatherings. We are looking at protocols for events to make sure social distancing is maintained in all aspects of a tournament including how the layout is set up (more space), registration, armory, Bout Committee, field of play, competition and awards.                                                                                                    

Q: What is USA Fencing doing to ensure the safety of all competitors at national events?

A: The biggest/most common question we received was along these lines. We are working on a protocol document for our National Events that will outline how we will best reduce the risk of attendees at events. We’ve worked with the RC, TC, BC, Semi Committee, awards, vendors, replay and IT to determine risk areas and best way to reduce the risk. Possibilities include temperature checks at the door, spectator limitations, check in updates, additional medical staff, updated layouts, competition interaction protocols between referees and athletes. How to best handle weapon check and keep both the armorers and athletes safe through that process. We’re working with convention centers to ensure enough sanitation stations, clean restrooms, safe concessions etc. It’s safe to say that events will look different. But all the measures that will be put in place will be done with the health and safety of our membership in mind.

Q: Can you further clarify the Classification downgrade announcement that was made late last month?

A: We changed the date of classification downgrade from Aug. 1, 2020 to Jan. 1, 2021. This means for example that a C16 would downgrade to a D20 typically on August 1. That downgrade will now occur on Jan 1. It does not, in any way, refer to age classifications.

Membership and Sanctioning Q&A

Q: What are the expectations for the size of membership next season? 

A: We have had a lot of great growth within our membership and clubs over the past few years, reaching 40,000+ members for the first time in 2018-19 and more than 700 clubs. The COVID-19 pandemic has had an effect on sports at all levels around the nation, but we will be working with our clubs to help retain fencers. Historically, in times of tragedy, people are looking to get back to what is familiar, including sports. We just want to make sure that everyone can do so as safely as possible, both in training and in competition. Most sports are projecting between 10-30% drop; we hope that we will not see more than a 20% drop. 

Q: Do you have a timeline for when fencers will be able to return to training and competition?

A: USA Fencing resumed its sanctioning of club activities on May 1, 2020 for clubs in locations where clubs are permitted to operate or reopen by local and state laws, regulations, executive orders and other legal mandates regarding COVID-19. We are finalizing Return to Fencing guidelines which will be made available to the full membership, including division officers, club owners, coaches, fencers, families. The Return to Fence Guidelines will include multiple phases of reintroduction to fencing. This includes guidelines for before, during and after fencing.

Q: In establishing equity with respect to training, is there an established training timeline so all athletes may have time to train before tournaments are sanctioned?

A: As we look at timelines for sanctioning tournaments at all levels, this also includes examining which areas have access to training, under what conditions and for how long. We know that many fencers want to return to competition, but that this must be balanced in order to ensure that athletes have had time to train prior to the return to competition.

Q: Will there be any extensions on memberships purchased during the 2019-20 season?

A: As we roll out plans for a Return to Fencing, we also are assessing when the 2019-20 season will formally conclude and what affect that will have on memberships for the upcoming season.  

Q: Our division typically holds its Board elections around this time. We're trying to figure out a way to do this virtually this year, given the current situation. Ideally, we would hold our annual meeting via some online platform, and then send voting links to eligible members of our division.

A: USA Fencing uses a platform called eBallot for national elections. However, depending on the size and scope of your election, a platform such as Survey Monkey may be useful. We do recommend reviewing your bylaws to make sure that any method you use is in compliance in order to guarantee the validity of the election. The USA Fencing National Office can assist with utilizing a platform such as Survey Monkey and will be reaching out to divisions with information on assistance.

Sports Performance Update

There is a dedicated page on our website (www.usafencing.org/coronavirus) that contains useful information for athletes, including webinars and podcasts on topics ranging from keeping fit at home to financial stability as well as tips for air travel, links to resources, up-to-date event information and much more.

National Team Update

All international events are on hold and the FIE is working to develop an event calendar for next season.  Of course there are many items dependent on this calendar, including finalization of the Olympic selection criteria, 2020-21 designated calendars and selection criteria, scheduling of training camps and many others.

From an athlete funding perspective, both the USOPC and USA Fencing are continuing to pay monthly athlete stipends.  We do not have confirmed information regarding USOPC funding for 2021, but we expect to see a reduction in support.  USA Fencing is planning to do everything possible to provide the Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls with the same level of support in 2020-21 as we planned for 2019-20.   

We are working with the USOPC on when and how the Olympic & Paralympic Training Center will open as it will be an important venue for our teams to prepare for getting back into competition. In the meantime, our athletes continue to train at home and hopefully will be back in their clubs soon.

The USA Fencing Athletes Advisory Council, the Sports Performance Resource Team, Paralympic Resource Team, Veterans Committee and the national coaches have all played and will continue to play key roles in handling the challenges COVID-19 has had on our athletes.

From a Veterans perspective, we previously announced revised selection criteria for the Veterans World Championships.  The FIE is currently working with its Medical Commission to determine if the Championships can and should be held this year.  We know some of our vet fencers are hesitant to travel and hope to have a decision from the FIE in early June.

Sports Medicine Update

Everyone is urged to remain up-to-date with local, regional, state and national guidelines with regards to health and safety in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.  Links to these guidelines have been posted at www.usafencing.org/coronavirus.  USA Fencing is finalizing Return to Fencing guidelines which will be released shortly.. 

In addition, we are developing a series of podcasts for athletes as they return to fencing. Even though some athletes have been cross-training at home, it’s important to remember to slowly ease back into fencing in order to prevent injury. If you have any questions, please contact international@usafencing.org.

Financial Update

The impact of cancelled/postponed events has negatively affected the organization’s cash flow and bottom line for the 2019-20 membership year. We have received approval for a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program and also have secured a line of credit that is collateralized by our reserves that are invested with the US Olympic Endowment. The line of credit was secured using USA Fencing reserves, not US Fencing Foundation funds that are managed separately by the US Fencing Foundation Board of Directors.The National Office is finalizing projections for the 2019-20 fiscal year-end over the next two weeks. Simultaneously, work has begun on revising the previously approved 2020-21 budget. Several items will be addressed as we go through revisions with the Budget Committee and Board of Directors, including club credits, membership fees and plans for the 2020-21 event season. We anticipate receiving the insurance renewal information around July 1 which also may impact the budget.

Strategic Plan Update

As mentioned during the recent CEO Update to the membership, USA Fencing had recently completed the 2020-24 strategic plan that included expanded initiatives for athlete and member wellness, growing the sport, coaches and referee education as well as diversifying revenue. We are also looking ahead to 2028 when the U.S. will once again host an Olympic Games.

With the onset of Covid-19 crisis, it became clear that we needed to develop a plan for the next 12-18 months before transitioning to the 2021-24 plan. We have put together a working group of volunteer, athlete and staff leadership to address the current challenges including, but not limited to assisting clubs and rebuilding membership, expanding marketing efforts to build membership and support and assisting our elite athletes on their Tokyo journey.

Once the interim plan is complete, we will share with the USA Fencing membership and provide regular updates on our progress as we begin to emerge from the challenges we are facing now.

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