Fencing Competitions During COVID and the Return to “Normal”

By: NATALIA PATTERSON

For many months, the world has been shut down due to the pandemic. However, recently, everything has started to open up again. Thanks to the easing of health restrictions, schools have switched over to the hybrid model, Benicia sports are holding practices and games, and many activities are holding more in-person classes. Even so, there continue to be some limitations in all of these activities. In order to adapt to the regulations still in place, most activities need to undergo various changes. These changes may shift our perception of what the norms in these activities are. An example of a sport that has been affected in this way is fencing.

For the first time in an entire year, fencing competitions are finally being held. In the sport of fencing, the goal is to hit your opponent with a metal sword, with the fencers wearing layers of protective equipment and the weapons being dulled to prevent injury. In addition to this, fencing has many rules, norms, and traditions, many of which have been affected by COVID-19.

In a fencing tournament, individual competitors fence off in a bracket, the winner of each match being the first to score 15 points. Typical regional events consist of about 50 people, and, as a result, the process of competing can take a long time, with the finalists having to win numerous matches to reach the gold medal. However, according to health restrictions, tournaments can have no more than 20 fencers. Not only does this take away the thrill of facing a crowd of competitors, but it also makes it exceedingly hard to register for the tournament, as spaces are limited. And even the few fencers that get in must be subject to many health regulations that make the process of competing in and preparing for the tournament more challenging.

Of course, fencers are required to wear masks at all times. In addition, to be permitted into the venue of the competition, you must have proof of a negative COVID test within the last 7 days. There is also a limit to the amount of equipment that you can take with you to the venue. Competitors must fit all of their protective equipment and fencing weapons in a smaller bag than is usually allowed. With more bag capacity, it is easier to bring extra equipment to replace malfunctioning or breaking equipment, but with these restrictions, doing so is harder.

Some restrictions also change the dynamics of the competition. In fencing, there is a long-standing tradition to shake hands with your opponent after every match. The handshake is a symbol of honor, showing that, even though you are fighting your opponent within the sport, you still have respect for them. During the pandemic, though, this tradition has been discontinued. Also, shouting in celebration of scoring is no longer allowed in order to prevent the spreading of the virus through air. However, installing this rule also restricts many fencers, who use shouting as a way of releasing tension, and takes away from some of the excitement of the game. Furthermore, no coaches are allowed inside the competition building. Usually, all competitors up to the Olympic level are provided with coaching advice during their matches. Now, with this being gone, there is more pressure on the fencer to make all of their own tactical decisions. Lastly, after competing, many clubs require that the fencer quarantines for at least 10 days, missing all in-person club practices during that period of time.

While all of these precautions may take away from the game, they also test the athletes’ commitment to the sport. Those that are willing to endure these hardships in order to continue with fencing will stick to training and competing, while those who do not want to make these sacrifices will stop training as seriously. This translates to participants of all other activities. If the pandemic goes on for long, the way our world is now may become the new “normal,” and it is everyone’s responsibility to keep working through it and make the best of any new situation.

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