Water Shortages and Bad Calls at the Denver Junior Olympics

Symptoms of a lack of strategic leadership at US Fencing

While we have come to expect issues at every NAC, it is also time we recognize that many of the issues we encounter are not strictly operational in nature. An internally focused organizational culture and an absence of strategic leadership at US Fencing set the stage for many of these recurrent problems.

In Denver, the water shortage served to irritate and aggravate parents who already felt overcharged and taken advantage of by the increased NAC fees, and the petty imposition of entry fees.

See NACs Will Generate an Estimated Surplus of $1.9 Million This Year, So Why Did US Fencing Raise Event Fees?

Almost no fencer at a NAC escapes a “bad” call made by a referee. The fact that “bad” calls have become common is not the fault of the individual referee, it is the fault of the system set up by US Fencing that has failed both the referees and the fencers.

While there were several smaller issues listed below, we will keep our focus on the headlined ones:

  • Chair shortages - Fencers and parents desperately seeking chairs was certainly not a satisfying experience for anyone, neither was standing for 2 hours while watching pool bouts. Surely, chair rental is inexpensive, especially when seen in the light of the large NAC profits!

  • Starting 5 events simultaneously at 8am on Monday - 850 fencers converged on 56 fencing strips for warm-ups at 7am. The 3 individual events were “flighted”, leaving about 360 fencers at a time to hang out for 2 hours either waiting for their pools to start, or waiting for the 2nd group’s pools to end. “Flighting” extended the usual time it would have taken to complete each event, leading to a few disrupted travel schedules and some missed flights.

  • JOs in Denver coincided with one of the busiest travel weekends of the ski season - We greatly appreciate US Fencing holding a national competition in a hub city. The coincidence with a peak ski travel weekend was rather unfortunate. Despite being a hub city, the flight costs were not as cheap as anticipated. Many of us paid premiums to fly out on Monday night, as we competed with skiers returning home after a long weekend on the slopes.

Now, let us get back to the water shortages and the “bad” calls.

Water Shortages

Water Shortages.jpg

As night follows day, a steady supply of drinking water from water coolers supplied by US Fencing is a reliable resource that fencers have come to expect to quench their hydration needs at NACs.

But at JOs in Denver last weekend, US Fencing pulled the plug on the water supply. The water coolers ran dry by mid-day on Saturday, the 2nd day of competition, and the water coolers were completely removed the next day. Most of us had no choice but to purchase multiple 16.9 oz bottles of Dasani water from the lone food vendor present at an outrageous $4.50 per bottle.

NACs are extremely profitable for US Fencing, and the price of water is insignificant relative to the NAC fees collected by US Fencing. There cannot possibly be a reasonable excuse for failing to maintain a steady supply of water over 4 days of competition at JOs.

The organizational culture at US Fencing keeps it tuned in exclusively to its own agenda, and makes it impervious to the impact of its actions on US Fencing’s largest constituency and biggest customers - competitive fencers under the age of 18, and their parents. This group alone contributes close to 40% of US Fencing’s total revenues. Our needs should be paramount.

See our blogs relating to the issues with US Fencing:

NACs Will Generate an Estimated Surplus of $1.9 Million This Year, So Why Did US Fencing Raise Event Fees?

Email to Board and Management of US Fencing Regarding NAC Organization

US Fencing is Exploring New Cities for NACs

October NAC Milwaukee Debrief for Parents - Security Lines and Flight Times

“bad” calls

Frustrated person.jpg

We have great admiration and deep appreciation for the individuals who forgo their weekends for long hours and a small honorarium in order to referee at national fencing competitions.

However, in failing to develop and fund a proper referee training system, US Fencing has failed all fencers and all referees.

While we expect that there will be some mistakes made in referee calls, “bad” calls are now ubiquitous at NACs. The experience at JOs in Denver was no different.

With so many fencers now recording their bouts for training purposes, the fencing community has accumulated a treasure trove of proof of “bad” calls. It is no longer open to US Fencing and the Referee Commission to claim that complaints of “bad” calls are self-serving on the part of the losing fencer and his/her coach and parents.

You know there is a real problem with the referee’s ability to call the “priority” of action when:

  • an opponent tells you that it was a “good” touch, but the referee awards the point to the opponent - all action is caught on video

  • the score is at 14-14, and the referee awards the point incorrectly prompting even the opponent’s coach to admit that the touch was really yours -all action is caught on video.

  • in a complex series of actions where the “priority” shifts between the fencers, the referee repeatedly defaults to awarding the point to the higher ranked of the 2 fencers, regardless of what the actions actually were - again all action is caught on video

  • the referee, without regard to the actions, awards the point to the fencer whose coach yells loudly that it is his fencer’s touch - again all action is caught on video

All of these problems, and many more can be corrected with systematic training for referees, followed by periodic reviews and re-certifications for all referees.

It cannot be an axiom that “this is fencing, bad calls are part of life.” We should strive for excellence instead.

The festering problem caused by the absence of a proper referee training system can and will lead to an erosion of respect for referees. This would be an exceedingly unhealthy development for everyone in the fencing community.

Fencers and their parents invest substantial amounts of time, effort, commitment and money for their training and their travel to national competitions. Many fencers engage elite coaches to develop and consistently improve their fencing skills so that they are competitive at the national level, and for some, at the international level.

It is a matter of fairness and respect to fencers that those engaged to judge their actions and who have the power to determine whether they win or lose are equally well trained.

With existing platforms like Udemy and Teachable readily available to create digital training courses, and with an existing treasure trove of fencing videos from fencers and their parents, and the fencing community at large, the next step to creating training courses for referees is neither complex nor expensive. It just takes leadership and vision!

where is the strategic leadership from us fencing?

The problem starts at the top. The actions taken by US Fencing indicate that its leadership not only has very narrow priorities, it has no strategic plan for the development of fencing in the US.

US Fencing uses NAC fees as an easy source of cash to fund the international activities that they prioritize, while holding down the cost of NACs.

The selection of low rent NAC venues that have poor flight options, the unreasonable imposition of NAC entry fees on parents, the lack of money to fund and develop a proper referee training system, and at the Denver JOs, the petty water shortages, are all unfortunate and unacceptable consequences that domestic fencers are forced to live with because of US Fencing’s narrow priorities.

As we pointed out in a January article, NACs Will Generate an Estimated Surplus of $1.9 Million This Year, So Why Did US Fencing Raise Event Fees?, NAC profits are not re-invested in the NACs to improve the NAC experience, but are instead used for purposes that should appropriately be funded from sources other than NAC fees.

Until the US Fencing leadership starts to effect change, or is itself changed, we may be tilting at windmills.

Please share this article freely with everyone you know. This issues raised affect all of us.