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The Right of Appeal

11/06/2018, 6:15pm CST
By Devin Donnelly

The right of appeal against a referee’s decision is an important aspect of fairness in our sport. Appealing a referee’s decision ensures that athletes retain some recourse against decisions they believe to be incorrectly applied or contrary to the rules.

As a refresher, the rules relevant to the right of appeal (t.172-t.174) state:


1. No appeal can be made against the decision of the Referee regarding a point of fact, except as permitted in o.105 and t.60-63 for video refereeing (cf. t.136.1/2, t.137).

2. If a fencer infringes this principle, casting doubt on the decision of the Referee on a point of fact during the bout, he will be penalized according to the Rules (cf. t.158-162, t.165, t.170). But if the Referee is ignorant of or misunderstands a definite rule, or applies it in a manner contrary to the Rules, an appeal on this matter may be entertained. A point of fact includes, but is not limited to, any ruling by the referee analyzing what happened on the strip, such as the validity or priority of a hit, whether a fencer left the side or end of the strip or if a person’s behavior is a Group 3 or Group 4 offence.


This appeal must be made:

1. in individual events, by the fencer;

2. in team events, by the fencer or the team captain.

This appeal should be made courteously but without formality, and should be made verbally to the Referee immediately and before any decision is made regarding a subsequent touch.


If the Referee maintains his opinion, the Head Referee has authority to settle an appeal (cf. t.141). If such an appeal is deemed to be unjustified, the fencer will be penalized in accordance with Articles t.158-162, t.165, t.170.

Honoring the Appeal Process

An important aspect of the appeal process is that the presiding referee may not deem an appeal unjustified. In a sense, the right of appeal guarantees that the fencer’s appeal will be heard by the appeal’s ultimate arbiter (e.g. the Head Referee for competitions in the United States).

The referee may choose to warn the fencer that their appeal could be considered invalid if said appeal is contesting a point of fact (such as a phrase reconstruction in right-of-way fencing or whether or not a hit arrived in time) or might be considered spurious or frivolous. However, the referee must refer the appeal to the head referee if it is requested that they do so. The act of requesting an appeal is not itself a penalty, regardless of the eventual determination of the appeal’s merit.

Examples of Valid Appeals

The distinction between a misapplication of a rule and a disagreement over a point of fact can be tricky. Only the former are the basis for a valid protest. Misapplications of the rules do happen; fencing rules are constantly amended, even over the course of a season, and there are occasional misunderstandings of current rules among athletes, coaches, and referees. The appeals process ultimately helps us get things right.

Some examples of rules misapplications that are subject to an appeal might be:

  • A referee issuing an incorrect type of penalty. For example, a red card for the first instance of a Group 1 offense, such as a weapon failing inspection.
  • A referee awarding a hit that should, by rule, be disallowed. For example, a fencer commits a penalty while scoring a valid touch. If the referee penalizes the fencer, but also allows the touch to stand, this decision is subject to a valid appeal.

Note that these decisions are different from “point of fact” decisions: they don’t involve the referee’s judgement of what took place (such as “beat attack vs. parry-riposte”), but rather an incorrect outcome that resulted from that judgement.

Unjustified Appeal

Should the Head Referee deem the appeal unjustified, the fencer making the appeal is subject to a Group 1 penalty. The penalty for unjustified appeal is the rules’ “defense” against spurious or frivolous appeals made primarily to disrupt the flow of a bout or of a competition.

However, the application of the unjustified appeal penalty is at the discretion of the Head Referee–not the referee on the piste. In some rare cases, the Head Referee may determine that a protest was valid (not a question of fact nor spurious or frivolous), even if the Head Referee denies the appeal. In this case, the Head Referee may choose not to apply the penalty.

The Head Referee supporting the on-piste referee’s correct decision does not guarantee that the fencer will be penalized for an unjustified appeal. A close reading of the appeal rule supports this–only the Head Referee may deem an appeal unjustified, but the rule makes no provision for which side of the decision the Head Referee took. This interpretation is in line with the FIE Rules Commission and has been the standard applied at World-level competitions.

The Goal of the Appeal Process

The goal of the appeal process is to ensure that the rules are followed correctly and that the correct decision is ultimately made. I urge both officials and competitors to approach the appeal process from this standpoint, and keep appeals (and the response to them) calm, courteous, and in the spirit of the sport.

Good luck out there!
Devin Donnelly
On behalf of the Rules Committee and Referees’ Commission

Tag(s): Rules Blog