The following is a post written by Saskatoon fencer, and President of the Saskatoon Fencing Club Mike Weaver back in October of 2011, directly following the Asquith Tournament – Looking at officiating from both sides of the piste.
Today is Sunday. The Asquith Open will have just finished. I trust it was a great beginning to the year and you all had a good time. Not being there to participate as either athlete or official, I have no idea what kind of excitements may have occurred. It was interesting watching the officials at the tournament I was in last weekend. Some were clearly better than others, but all were doing the best they could to provide consistent, fair officiating. I didn’t always agree with the official. For example, I saw a couple of actions called beat attacks when I saw parry repost, but we generally agreed on which way the points should be awarded.
Some fencers did take exception to some of the calls (big surprise) and, right or wrong, I felt sympathy for the official. I know from experience that you not only want to make the right calls, you want to be seen to be making the right calls. In short, you want people to agree with you. Of course, with a sport like fencing, with lots of judgement calls, there will always be disagreements. It helps for the official to be supremely self confident, but not everyone is. The officiating role can be a challenge and yet the sport needs officials.
There has never been a fencer that hasn’t disagreed with a call made by an official. Sometimes, the fencer is right, but often they are not. I recall a foil pool I was in that was officiated by Kirk Brecht. It was during the Asquith open several years ago when it was still being held in the Lord Asquith School gym. Kirk made some terrible calls that, unfortunately, went against me. Needless to say, I was not impressed. Never having seen Kirk officiate before, I sat down and watched him work through the rest of the pool. To my chagrin, I found I was agreeing with all of his calls, even those in which one or the other of the fencers vehemently disagreed. Kirk is an excellent official although he rarely takes on a foil match. So, how is it he made such bad calls when I was fencing? The answer, of course, is that he didn’t. When we fence, we pay attention to what the other fencer is doing so we can plan good strategy. When we execute that strategy, we know what we are doing, at least what we intend to do. However, we are not the only fencer on the piste! Sometimes our timing is a little off, or our execution fails, or the other fencer steals the time, or something they are trying to do interferes with what we are trying to do. In those cases, our carefully planned action, which we may think succeeded perfectly, doesn’t look from the sidelines at all like we think it does. Likewise, the infraction the other fencer so obviously committed may not look like an infraction from the official’s position or it may seem insignificant to what is happening.
When the official makes a wrong call, it is easy to get so fixated on it and so angry that we then screw up several more actions. If we can be a little more philosophical, we can make other decisions that will be more successful.
On a related note, I have often found myself reluctant to use yellow and red cards as much as I should. Understanding the fencer’s feelings, I tend to be more tolerant than I should be. I am coming to understand that the cards are there for the fencer’s benefit as much as for the official. They are important to the maintenance of good order which is to everyone’s benefit.