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Referees’ Commission Offers Answers on How Board-Mandated ‘Strip Coaching’ Rule t.109 Will Be Enforced — UPDATED

08/30/2023, 6:15pm CDT
By The Referees’ Commission

Read about this change that was later suspended and overturned by the Board.


Update, Sept. 1: The information on this page is no longer current.

  • Read this update from Sept. 1, 2023, and this update from Dec. 20, 2023.
  • On Dec. 20, 2023, the USA Fencing Board reaffirmed the “American exception” for rule t.109, meaning coaches are allowed to give advice during competitions.
  • The rule will continue to read: “In USA Fencing competitions, coaches and spectators are allowed to give advice to fencers…in all situations, coaches and spectators must not disturb the order of the bout.”

Once again, the information below is outdated and no longer accurate, for transparency we are preserving the original post from Aug. 30 below.


COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — At the April 2023 meeting, the USA Fencing Board of Directors adopted a motion to revise rule t.109 in the USA Fencing Rules, in order to conform to the equivalent FIE rule and remove the existing qualification present in the USA Fencing Rules. This earlier exception, now no longer valid, stated that:

In USA Fencing competitions, coaches and spectators are allowed to give advice to fencers, but cf. t.130, as well as t.131 and the associated USA Fencing note. In all situations, coaches and spectators must not disturb the order of the bout.

Based on this Board-mandated motion, the language of t.109 now reads:


Everybody taking part in or present at a fencing competition must remain orderly and must not disturb the smooth running of the competition. During bouts no one is allowed to go near the strips, to give advice to the fencers, to criticize the Referee or the judges, to insult them or to attempt to influence them in any way. Even the team captain must remain in the space assigned and may only intervene in the situations and in the manner provided for in Article t.130of the Rules. The Referee must stop immediately any activity which disturbs the smooth running of the bout which the Referee is refereeing (cf. t.137.1-3).

Any person who, for any reason, threatens or insults an official commits an offense of the 4th group and is penalized according to Article t.169.

The Board then tasked the Referees’ Commission with providing guidance to referees, fencers, coaches and other fencing stakeholders on the application of the revised rule. The Referees’ Commission met on Aug. 19 and 20 to discuss the intention, implications and implementation of the revised rule.

The Referees’ Commission has agreed on the following points:

  • Referees should enforce t.109 as written.
  • Under t.109, no advice may be given to the fencers during the bout.
  • "During the bout" is defined as from the initial salute through the handshake at the end of the bout (cf. t.122).
  • There is an exception that during the one-minute rest periods in direct elimination bouts, a person named before the bout may have access to the fencer (cf. t.39.2).
  • Coaching is permitted between bouts, including in pools.
  • t.109 applies in the same way across all levels of competition, without exceptions for youth or local fencing.

Questions & Answers

Q1: Why did the Referees’ Commission change the rule?

A1: The Referee’s Commission didn’t change the rule. The rule change originated with a motion made and adopted by the Board of Directors. The Referees’ Commission is tasked with guiding implementation of the rule and ensuring consistent application of the rule in competition.

 Q2: Why did the Board of Directors change the rule?

 A2: The Board of Directors opted to amend t.109 to conform to the language in the FIE Rules and remove a previous (U.S.-only) exception that explicitly permitted coaches and spectators to give advice to fencers in USA Fencing competitions, as long as they did not disturb the order of the bout. Reasons for this change in the rationale for the Board motion included better preparing fencers for conditions in international competition, mitigating bullying behavior of coaches, parents, and spectators toward referees, and restoring civility among fencers, referees, coaches, and spectators.

Q3: Does this rule change mean there’s no more coaching?

A3: No. The rule prohibits giving advice to fencers during bouts (as well approaching the strip, criticizing referees, or attempting to influence the referee’s decisions). Coaching may still happen during the one-minute breaks between periods of direct elimination bouts and between bouts (away from the strip), including during pools.

 Q4: Is the rule different for younger age groups?

 A4: No.  The Referees Commission heard the concerns of the coaches, but felt the wording of the rule left no latitude for differing levels of enforcement for various categories of competition. Thus, application of the rule should be consistent for all tournaments, including Division I NACs, youth events, and local tournaments.

Q5: Does the rule apply to spectators as well?

 A5: Yes, the rule applies to all persons within the competition venue at USA Fencing sanctioned tournaments that could feasibly provide advice or coaching instruction to fencers. 

Q6: Is encouragement or cheering considered coaching behavior?

A6: No. Spectators and coaches are able to cheer or support a fencer during the bout, so long as such behavior is in adherence with the rules governing these behaviors. Any behavior that “...disturbs the smooth running of the bout…” is prohibited.

Tag(s): Updates