We need a reform of the Olympic Qualification system in fencing. For most of the member federations, participation in the Olympic Games is only a distant dream. A very limited number of fencers are qualified individually due to the fact that qualification to a team event automatically qualifies three fencers to the individual competition.
In every individual event, at least two thirds of the fencers have not qualified individually but because they qualify in teams. For federations who don’t have the funding to compete for team qualification which is an expensive multi-year endeavour, the chances of qualifying an individual fencer is very small.
Many world-class fencers have failed to qualify in this system. For fencing, this situation is bad since it makes it difficult for all the nations who can’t participate to develop. Having fencers in the Olympic Games is the major possibility to make the sport known nationally and to attract new fencers into the sport. It is of course also important for the financing of the sport.
Thus, fencing is not growing as it should be and threatened also in the countries where fencing has a long tradition.
The Swedish Fencing Federation has made an analysis of the participation in the Olympic Games and we have also has put forward a proposal for a reformed qualification system to the FIE Congress. The FIE has chosen not to present it to the Congress or send it out to the member federations but you can find our statistics, our proposed system and a simulation of how it would work if implemented at here.
Together with 23 other national fencing federations the Swedish Fencing Federation sent a letter to the President of the International fencing Federation, Mr Alisher Usmanov, suggesting possibilities for changes and improvements in the Olympic qualification.
One possibility to broaden the participation in the Olympic fencing competitions would be to separate the individual and the team qualifying processes. Currently, more than two thirds of the fencers in the individual competitions are qualified through theri team. Three members in each team are allowed to fence individually, in total 24 fencers from the eight teams in every weapon. This leaves very limited possibilities for individual qualification. This could be achieved if the Olympic accreditations could be made “transferable” so that, once the individual competitions are finished, the accreditations from the fencers in this competition are tranfered to the participants in the team competitions.
Another possibility to increase the participation would be if the so called P-Athletes would be transformed to regular athlete accreditations. The P-athletes ar the substitute athletes of the 48 teams who are present at the Olympics but only accreditated if they are substituted into the team competition,
In his reply, President Usmanov explained that the FIE had had already put forward these proposals to the International Olympic Committee who would not accept this solution at present.
Reduced national quota in Olympic fencing competitions
The Olympic qualification in fencing needs to change in order to reduce the concentration of Olympic medals and high level fencing to only a few countries. The current qualification system also needs to change because it makes it impossible for some of the worlds top ranked fencers to participate. This is the essence of a proposal put forward by the Swedish Fencing Federation.
Since 2004, 70 percent of the Olympic individual and team medals in fencing have been won by only six countries: Russia, France, USA, China, Italy and South Korea. These nations have more than half of all the team starts in the period. Six countries is only 4 % of the 153 members of the International Fencing Federation.
The proposal from the Swedish Fencing Federation is to allow only one fencer per country in the individual fencing competitions. Currently, most of the athletes qualify through the team qualification to the individual competitions. Every nation qualifying a team can enter three fencers in the individual competition and there is very little room for individual qualification.
Separate individual qualification from team qualification
Individual participation should be based on individual qualification. It is not fair that more than two thirds of the athletes that compete individually should be automatically qualified through team qualification and take the place of higher ranked fencers from other countries.
The current qualification system makes it very difficult for the majority of the fencing world to qualify for the games. Our sport cannot grow and develop if the participants at the Olympics always come from the same countries. Statistics from the Olympic Games in Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016 show that a small number of fencing nations dominate fencing.
If no action is taken to change the principles of the qualification, it can have severe consequences for fencing. We can already see that fencers from nations who don’t qualify for Olympic team competitions gradually lose their position also in the individual world rankings, since failure to make Olympic qualification usually results in loss of funding from the national Olympic committees. Soon, this situation can become irreversible.
The Swedish proposal aims to reduce the impact of the team competitions by making the individual and team qualifications totally separated.
We believe that it could be possible to limit the number of teams to only four per competition. Fencing could organize a pre—Olympic qualification where the last stages of the competition, semifinals and medal matches, are fought at the Games. This would also be in line with the Olympic Agenda 2020 + 5.