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RC Statement on Return to Competition 2020

10/29/2020, 2:45pm CDT
By Devin Donnelly

To USA Fencing athletes, referees, and tournament staff:

As you may already be aware, USA Fencing has begun sanctioning local competitions and plans on restarting competition at the regional level as of October 2020. Please review the following statement from the Referees' Commission on the return to play, covering the following topics:

  • Risk assessment

  • Competition requirements for the return to play

  • Guidance for enforcing COVID-specific regulations

Risk assessment 

Please note, first and foremost, that a fencing competition at any level is by definition a public/social gathering. The United States is currently in the midst of an uncontrolled pandemic, and as such, any public or social gathering carries significant health risks, to both attendees and the larger community surrounding the event. We ask that you take these risks into consideration when determining whether to attend a fencing competition.

USA Fencing and the Referees' Commission fully support any referee who chooses not to attend an event, at any level, citing concerns for their own health or the health and safety of the public. The Commission is committed to ensuring that any referee that declines to attend an event on these grounds will face no negative consequences with respect to ratings adjustments, National-level hiring invitations, or international assignments.

Many of us have circumstances that limit or prevent our participation in certain ways, or do not feel it is socially responsible and/or safe to attend certain events. How you choose to participate this season is entirely up to you and will not affect your eligibility to referee this season or in 2021-2022.

Competition requirements for the return to play 

As of September 22nd, the FIE published updated risk-mitigation requirements for competitions in the context of Covid-19. Of particular interest is Section 8, Sanitary Measures at Competition

The Referees' Commission recommends following the strictest possible interpretation of Section 8's sanitary measures at all levels of competition, with one exception: the requirements for face coverings.

After consulting with infectious disease experts from Mt. Sinai hospital, USA Fencing has mandated that all attendees at any USA Fencing competition must wear a mask at all times. This includes athletes while competing; fencers must wear a face covering inside their fencing mask. All masks at USA Fencing-sanctioned events must be two-layer cloth masks or surgical face coverings. Single-layer gaiters, bandannas, masks with vents and the Leon Paul mask shield are not permitted. For more information on allowable masks, see the USA Fencing Mask FAQ.

As face coverings are a matter of public health and safety, there will be no exceptions, medical or otherwise, to the face covering policy.

Please note, that the FIE requirements have been drafted for a return to competition in countries with a far lower rate of Covid-19 infection spread and a lower rate of positive tests than the United States. The US pandemic is essentially uncontrolled and, as such, there are no set of competition requirements that can wholly eliminate the risk of COVID transmission as a result of a fencing competition in the United States.

Note that local or state governments may impose their own restrictions on competition gatherings. These may include, but are not limited to:

  • Number of attendees

  • Travel limitations

  • Social distancing requirements

  • Sanitization of equipment and common surfaces

If the FIE requirements differ from those imposed by local or state governments, competitions should always use the stricter of the two.

Guidance for enforcing Covid-specific regulations

As some of the Covid-specific procedure changes are new, the RC is providing some guidance on enforcing them. These changes include:

No screaming: The practice of fencers screaming during or after the hit is prohibited. We recognize that this is a significant change and is often reflexive; as such, referees are advised to verbally warn fencers in each instance of screaming, without penalty.

If a fencer is judged to be deliberately or carelessly violating the no-screaming requirement in a systematic manner, the referee may sanction the fencer with a 1st group penalty (refusal to obey the referee) or a 3rd group penalty (fencer disturbing order on the piste). The goal of this requirement is to limit vocalizations that increase the risk of airborne virus transmissions; as such, the referee’s decision is considered a statement of fact when determining which vocalizations merit warning or penalty.

No handshakes: Handshakes after the bout are to be replaced with a salute at sanitary distance. Referees are advised to verbally remind fencers of this requirement.

Face covering requirements: Masks/face coverings are required for all tournament attendees at all times. Referees are advised to enforce face coverings for spectators with a 3rd group penalty (any person not on strip disturbing good order). In addition, referees are advised to work with competition organizers at the local level to ensure that the organizers have made provision to assist referees and other staff in case of conflicts related to mask requirements.

Face coverings for athletes: Athletes must wear a mask at all times, including under their fencing mask during competition. USA Fencing has agreed on several provisions to account for the additional equipment:

  • The rest period during Direct Elimination bouts has been extended to 90 seconds.

  • Referees should make allowances for fencers needing to adjust/reset their mask; consider this akin to retying a shoelace or fixing an equipment fastening. Chronic mask slippage is to be treated in the same manner as, for example, non-conforming hair falling out of position; fencers are expected to make reasonable provisions for keeping their face coverings fixed in place, and referees may enforce that via Group 1 penalty if necessary.

  • Consider the face covering a required piece of safety equipment. Fencers not properly equipped are not permitted to take part in the competition.

  • Masks may be temporarily lowered or repositioned in order for the wearer to eat or drink, for the minimum necessary time to complete that act.

Social distancing: All persons must maintain sanitary/social distancing from athletes, officials, and other spectators except in cases required for the running of the competition (weapons checks, actual fencing). Referees are advised to verbally enforce social distancing between themselves and spectators and coaches; repeated or willful encroachments on distancing may be penalized in the 3rd group (any person not on strip disturbing good order).

Stay safe and healthy,
Devin Donnelly
Vice Chair, Rules and Exams
on behalf of the Referees' Commission

Tag(s): Rules Blog