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Letter to USA Fencing Membership from CEO Kris Ekeren

02/16/2021, 7:45am CST
By Kris Ekeren

Dear USA Fencing Community,

As we enter the second half of our membership year and almost a year into the Covid-19 pandemic, I want to provide an operational update on USA Fencing. I know many of us could never have imagined the impact that Covid would have on the health and well-being of our communities and our daily lives.

From all of us at the National Office, we hope that you and your families are safe and healthy.

Membership

We know that every area of the country is different in regards to the current incidence rate of COVID-19 as well as restrictions on access to sports activities. Some clubs are open at full capacity with safety precautions in place while others are at limited capacity and still others have remained closed or may only conduct activities outside. In addition to governmental guidelines, we know that each of you will be making a decision on when to return to fencing and in what capacity carefully based upon your own individual circumstances.

As small businesses, fencing clubs have faced many challenges throughout the pandemic. Our clubs are an integral part of USA Fencing and we encourage everyone to support your home club if possible through maintaining your membership with your club, providing donations or financial support or offering to volunteer time either in person or by pitching in with outreach or social media efforts. We are impressed with the innovation our club owners have shown in continuing to keep their fencers engaged. As sports resume across the nation in clubs and schools, we also have received feedback from club owners who have first-time fencers trying the sport because they were looking for a new sport or one that fit their safety needs due to the precautions that our clubs have taken in keeping athletes as safe as possible. In order to help club owners reach new fencers to grow and sustain their programs, USA Fencing is continuing to provide club owners with marketing materials and return to fencing protocols to assist with growth and promote safety.

Accordingly, like many similar sports, USA Fencing’s membership has decreased significantly during the pandemic year. As the incidence rates of COVID improve and fencers feel more comfortable in returning to their clubs and to tournaments, we anticipate seeing an increase in individual memberships. I also want to ask those of you who have not renewed or joined USA Fencing to consider renewing your membership. A membership in USA Fencing allows you to support the future sustainability of the sport in America as well as providing benefits such as access to competition, secondary accident / medical insurance and the ability to earn rankings and classification. Renewing your membership helps the sport that we all love by allowing us to provide support to clubs and athletes and programs that help grow the sport in all areas.

Events

The USA Fencing Return to Events plan and sanctioning remains of interest to many in the fencing community. The passionate feedback that our office receives spans the spectrum from individuals who would like us to hold off on sanctioning events until COVID-19 vaccines are widely distributed while others feel that the organization should immediately sanction regional events and host national events with safety guidelines in place. Not only does the National Office staff consult frequently with committees and resource teams in our organization, we also communicate with other sports and agencies on protocols and experiences, including researching best practices of sports who have launched regional and national events in recent weeks and months. Many of the concerns are centered around athletes who are not able to attend local or regional events in their area and the impact on their points and qualifying paths. I am confident that the Tournament Committee and the staff will work diligently to assist those athletes with adjusted pathways to events. The National Office will provide an update no later than February 16th as we look to restarting the sport and events while monitoring the situation and making adjustments if needed.

Please know that, as we plan for the return of national competitions, we will be putting safety protocols into place that include the mask mandate that was announced in the fall as well as a reduction in the size of tournaments, physically separating events where possible and measures to allow for social distancing. Tournaments will indeed look different than they have in the past and we ask for your patience as we prepare for the season ahead.

Tokyo and International Events

The FIE has announced the final qualifying events for our Olympic hopefuls in the month of March with the IOC also releasing Playbooks for athletes, staff and media attending the Games regarding plans that will be put into place to protect the safety and well-being of all participants. We anticipate further details will be released in the coming weeks from IWAS regarding the final Paralympic qualification events. In addition, we anticipate receiving an update on the status of Junior and Cadet World Championships in late February. The health and safety of our athletes is a top priority and we are committed to supporting our athletes as they pursue their Olympic and Paralympic dreams.

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging

Thank you to the members of the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) Resource Team for their work on this important initiative. The resource team, board and staff are continuing to work together with consultants to explore inclusive policies and programs to expand diversity in our sport.

Throughout January and February, we have conducted a weekly Engaging Our Communities speaker series on a variety of topics  including managing uncertainty, creating more inclusive spaces and growing parafencing. I encourage each of you to consider attending the next event in the series:

Financials

Through the month of January, USA Fencing has been able to manage our budget effectively by reducing our expenses. During the last year, we have had a 33% reduction in staff and I want to thank the National Office staff members for their professionalism and willingness to do whatever it takes to assist the organization. The next few months will be challenging as we work to assist our members and clubs and plan for the future, but I am grateful to work every day with a dedicated team of staff, board members and volunteers who are all committed to seeing our sport thrive in the future.

As I close, I remain confident in the sport of fencing and the fencing family to emerge from this crisis stronger than ever and look forward to working with each of you on this effort. If you have feedback as we look ahead in the Return to Fencing, please reach out to me at k.ekeren@usafencing.org

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