Proposal: Olympic Qualification System in Fencing

Swedish Fencing Federation

Proposal for the FIE Congress 2021

 Summary

This proposal aims to promote the global development of fencing by considerably increasing the number of federations having participants at the Olympic Games. The emphasis is placed on individual qualification. By allowing only one athlete per country, per gender, per competition it allows participation with a diversity that will by far exceed the earlier qualification systems. It can be expected that it will positively affect the growth and visibility of fencing in many countries and make the sport more attractive in such a way that it could be possible to take up the discussion with the IOC concerning the possibilities to further improve the conditions for fencing in the Olympic Games. 

Individual qualification

  1. The highest ranked fencer on the FIE Official Ranking from each of the four qualified teams 
  2. The first 10 from the individual FIE Adjusted Official Ranking (AOR), with 1 fencer per country;
  3. The first 8 from the individual AOR by zone, with 1 fencer from any one country (2 for Europe, 2 for Asia-Oceania, 2 for America and 2 for Africa);
  4. The winners in the 4 zonal qualifying events

Qualification for the team event

  • The first four teams in the qualifying event.

Proposal

1) That the rules are amended in the following way:

o.65
Entries for the individual events are limited to one fencer per gender, per weapon, per nation.

o.53
1. The rules for the invitation to and participation in the Olympic Games are established by the IOC.

2. The FIE Congress establishes the rules for participation in the Olympic Games, including qualification criteria, in accordance with the Olympic Charter. Such criteria must be submitted to the IOC Executive Board for approval.

2) That the Congress defines the qualification system for the Olympic Games in Paris 2024 according to the proposal in Annex 1. 

Motivation

The current principles for the qualification system to the Olympic Games have been in use since the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996. One of the most important priorities has been to maintain the size of the team competitions in order to ensure a certain level of universality also in teams. To ensure a reasonable number of participants, members of qualified teams are automatically qualified for participation in the individual events –  without any consideration of their results in the individual qualification system. In each individual competition at the Olympic Games 24 fencers, qualify through their teams and only a limited number of fencers are able to qualify individually.

The results of this qualification are illustrated in the graphs and tables below. Here, participation in the Olympice Games 2004-2016 are analyzed (Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016). The important consequences could be summarized as follows:

  • The current system results in only a very small number of fencing federations being involved with the Olympic Games, and the divide between these countries and the large number of countries who have no participant or only an occasional participant seems to be increasing.
  • There is very limited movement in the results. Few new top nations are coming in and some nations seem to have very stable positions. This is illustrated by the fact that almost 70 per cent of the Olympic medals in the four Olympic Games was won by fencers originating from only six countries: Russia,  China, the United States, France, Korea and Italy. 
  • The number of nations who participate in the Olympic Games is limited, compared to the number of federations affiliated to the FIE. 
  • The team qualification absorbs such a large part of the total quota that some of the highest ranked athletes in the world in each weapon are prevented from participating in the individual competitions, making the individual competitions less prestigious and also treating world-class athletes unfairly. 
  • It seems evident that the effort to provide universality through zonal quota in the team competitions seems to effectively help to preserve the already existing order of strength in the respective zone. 

Olympic Qualification in Fencing 2004-2016

Team Competitions

Table 1. shows the 23 national federations qualifying at least 1 team between 2004 and 2016 (in case of Greece, China, Great Britain and Brazil also including the host country team places). In this period, 16 Olympic team events have taken place with 8 teams qualifying, which implies at least 128 qualifications. Only 23 federations have been able to qualify any of these 128 places available and, as can be seen from the table, 6 countries alone account for more than half of the places, 74 out of 128.

 NationNo of teams  NationNo of teams
1.RUS15 13.GBR3
2.FRA13 14.ROU3
3.USA13 15.VEN2
4.CHN13 16.JAP2
5.ITA12 17.BLR2
6.KOR9 18.RSA2
7.UKR8 19.CAN2
8.HUN7 20.GRE2
9.EGY7 21.SUI1
10.GER7 22.EST1
11.POL5 23. MEX1
12.BRA3    

Individual Competitions

Top Six: Qualifiers and Medals 2004-2016

Analysis

The current qualification system presents very high barriers to entry for federation that are not already successful and thus have secured a stable financing of their high-level fencing. Qualification is only possible for federations who can finance a high-level team effort, not only during the qualification period but throughout the four seasons preceding the Games. Normally, this type of projects can only be financed by the governments or the NOC:s of a country, since commercial sponsors play a marginal role in our sport. Since the efforts are so expensive, and funds always limited, the financers need to prioritize and therefore tend to finance only projects that are already successful. 

The very limited possibilities to qualify individuals also accentuate that it is very difficult to achieve Olympic participation. Experience shows that, at least in some zones, you need to be a contender for the Olympic gold medal in order to qualify for participation.

In the countries who fail to qualify Olympic participants or who only participate occasionally, it is difficult to raise public awareness of fencing and for the sport to grow. Exposure in print media or television is very low. The continuous expansion that needs to characterize a sport to avoid a negative development is lacking. This is no doubt an explanation as to why it is difficult for fencing to obtain global media interest for the sport.

Current Situation and Possibilities

It is very difficult to find an easy solution to the problem of qualifying 212 athletes to compete in six team events and six individual events. Possible solutions discussed previously have been an increased total quota of athletes with the IOC or to make the Olympic accreditations transferable so that 212 athletes could participate in the individual competitions and 212 different athletes could participate in the team competitions.

However, the FIE has already twice discussed the proposal to allow transferable accreditations with the IOC, including for Paris 2024, and the IOC has not accepted it. The IOC has also made it clear that increasing the 212 athlete quota is definitely not on the agenda for Paris 2024, as the IOC is committed to decreasing the total number of athletes participating at the Olympic Games to 10,500. 

There is currently no indication that the position of the IOC will change for future games. According to the current understanding, the IOC would seriously consider any new application for change only if the FIE could present compelling evidence of further development and progress, of reaching a new level of popularity and youth appeal. Otherwise, any attempts to get additional concessions from the IOC are destined to fail and will definitely be rejected. 

Without the consent of the IOC, it is only possible to make improvements to the current qualification system accepting the current framework: 212 places for athletes in six individual events and six team events.

Conclusion

The priority of the Olympic qualification system must shift from qualification by teams to strong emphasis on the individual qualification. We need to reduce the barriers of entry and widen participation. The guiding principle must be to allow as many fencing nations as possible to participate in the Olympic Games and take advantage of the possibilities for promotion and financing that can lead to development and growth of our sport on all continents. At the same time, the presence of the top fencers in the world in each weapon should be guaranteed.

The following proposal would allow 26 different countries to be represented in each individual competition. It is highly likely that the number of countries represented in Paris 2024 would by far exceed the number of countries represented in the four Olympic Games 2004-2016 in total. This would increase the global media exposure of our sport multifold and attract many more governments and national Olympic committees to engage in fencing and finance high-performance projects.

This priority is well in line with the recommendations in the Agenda 2020+5 of the International Olympic Committee. The first of the 15 recommendations underlines the need to strengthen the uniqueness and the universality of the Olympic Games and through the qualification system in this proposal fencing would take an immense step towards universality, underlining that the uniqueness of the Olympic Games is the global involvement of nations of all sizes. Furthermore,  the separation of individual and team qualifications in the Olympic fencing competitions would be an important contribution towards the recommendation to “continue to attract the best athletes”.

The disadvantage of the proposal is that, for the time being, the team competitions would be reduced to a minimal size. However, the current situation is not sustainable or fair and it is evident that the fencing world needs a reform to make international fencing relevant to more of its members.  At this stage, it will not be the team competitions that will be the driving force for global growth in our sport.

The proposal is to organize a prestigious qualifying event prior to the Games to qualify four teams for the Olympic finals.  This would be in line with the recommendation of the IOC Agenda 2020+5 to “enhance and promote the Road to the Olympic Games” where there is an opening to authorizarion of the use of Olympic branding. Hopefully, when the effects of the reform proposed are clearly visible in terms of participating nations and increased interest in fencing from young people in far more countries, it will be possible to reach out to the IOC and take the next step in the development of the fencing competitions in the Olympic Games and again increase the scope of the team competitions. 

By reforming the Olympic qualification the global fencing community would lay a sound foundation for positive change on a global scale that could allow fencing to grow and prosper in many more parts of the world. This would enable the sport to gain in popularity and increase its appeal to the younger population, thereby securing its future. 


Annex 1

2024 Olympic Games Qualification system for fencing 

Quota

6 individual events and 6 team events

In addition to its possible qualification through the current rules, the host country has the right
to enter 8 fencers, to be distributed between team and individual events as it sees fit.

The individual events bring together 26-27 fencers in each weapon with a maximum of 1 fencer per country, except for team members from qualified teams that are among the top 10 fencers on the FIE Official World Ranking.

The team events bring together 4 teams in each of the six weapons. The teams will be are
composed of 3 fencers, i.e. for 4 teams, 12 fencers in each weapon, plus the team from
the host country if applicable.

Individual qualification

  1. The highest ranked fencer on the FIE Official Ranking from each of the four qualified teams 
  2. The first 10 from the individual FIE Adjusted Official Ranking (AOR), with 1 fencer from any one country;
  3. The first 8 from the individual AOR by zone, with 1 fencer from any one country (2 for Europe, 2 for Asia-Oceania, 2 for America and 2 for Africa);
  4. The winners in the zonal qualifying events

In no case may a country qualify more than 1 fencer per weapon.

AOR * The Adjusted Official Ranking is the FIE Official Ranking modified as follows:

The highest ranked fencer by country and by weapon is kept, with the exception of the fencers from the four nations qualified by teams, while all the other names are removed.

Qualification for the team event

  • The first four teams in the qualifying event.

Reallocation of unused places

If a NOC does not meet the determined deadline to confirm the participation of a qualified fencer or declines the participation of a fencer, the FIE will thus re-allocate the availableplaces as follows:

  • If the fencer qualified through the AOR, the place will be re-allocated to the next best fencer in this ranking
  • If the fencer qualified through the AOR by zone, he/she will be replaced by the next best ranked fencer in the AOR from the same zone.

Reallocation of unused host country places

If the host country does not use its 8 places, the unused places will be allocated by the Tripartite Commission.