Rules Blog: Conflicts of Interest

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May 122017

This edition of the Rules Blog focuses on a question from member Richard Lee, about avoiding conflicts of interest while refereeing:

“I fence competitively (and so does my son), and I am a member of a Club, so I would like to know when I can and when I can’t referee a particular (or any) bout in a USA Fencing-sanctioned Tournament (I suppose it would be more lenient in non-sanctioned bouts).

1. I am sure I can’t referee a bout/pool that I, my son or a Club mate is fencing in. Similarly, I would imagine I cannot referee a Tournament that me or my son is competing in, regardless of me avoiding refereeing any of my son’s bouts (perhaps I am wrong?). However, can I referee a Tournament that includes a fencer (not me or my son) from my Club, as long as I do not referee any of his/her particular bout/pool? I may be wrong in some of my assumptions above, so I would love to know the proper rules on this.

2. Also, is there a restriction on refereeing a bout involving a fencer who I personally know, but is not a relative or a Club mate (or other fiduciary/official relationship)? Since I fence, and my son fences, I certainly have gotten to know (to varying degrees) a lot of the fencers (both Youth and Open fencers). Obviously, I cannot be biased and must be strictly objective, but I have socialized/gotten to know a lot of fencers in my Region.

I very much appreciate your guidance. Thank you!”

And the answer, from the Rules Committee:

Hi Richard,

These are good questions. Avoiding conflicts of interest is extremely important for referees, and USA Fencing referees make it a point of emphasis to make sure to avoid conflicts or even the appearance thereof. The FIE Code of Ethics, in Statutes Chapter 12 states that:

“[Referees] must avoid accepting an assignment to referee any match in which they have a perceived
or actual “Conflict of Interest” with any participant. Conflict of Interest shall mean any
situation where a conflict exists between the duties and the private interests of a referee or
judge, in which s/he has direct or indirect private interests that affect, might affect or seem
to affect the performance of, in an incorrect way, the referee’s or judge’s responsibilities
and duties as a referee or judge.”

Keep in mind, however, that “fencing is a small town.” As you referee in your local area, or even nationally or internationally, you’ll get to know the other members of the fencing community and likely become friends with them. It’s simply impossible to avoid refereeing someone that you know. In that case, we define “relationships” as being familial or fiduciary (such as affiliation with a fencing club).

1. Conflicts depend on the level of the tournament. We avoid conflicts based on personal relationships (such as family), club affiliation (teammates), and geography. I’ll take these in order:

Personal Relationships: You should recuse yourself from any bouts or pools that involve a family member, spouse, or significant other (any romantic relationship). That means you are correct in that you should not referee any bout or pool in which your son is fencing, at any level. You may, however, referee a tournament that your son (or a person with another such relationship) is fencing in, provided you aren’t involved with any of that fencer’s bouts or pools. A coach/student relationship is also a personal relationship in this context, whether past or present.

Teammates/Club Affiliation: You should recuse yourself from any bouts that involve your teammates–however, you can referee pools in which you have teammates/club members, provided you don’t work the actual bouts. In such cases, you should ask for help from another referee to handle those bouts that involve your teammates.

Geography: We avoid geographic conflicts only at the National or International level. At the National level, you should avoid refereeing fencers that come from the same division as you do. At the International level, you should avoid refereeing fencers from your home country. Bear in mind that at local tournaments, everyone will be from the same one or two local divisions, so these conflicts are not considered at that level.

2. There is no restriction on refereeing fencers that you know personally if there is no familial or fiduciary relationship. Fencing is a small town and you’ll quickly find that you get to know everybody. Use your judgement when recusing yourself; if you had a past personal relationship with a fencer (such as a romantic relationship), or coached a fencer personally, or had any other kind of personal relationship that would make you personally uncomfortable with your ability to be impartial, you can recuse yourself and you’ll find the community to be understanding.

Hope this helps! Thanks for bringing up such an important question.

Best of luck out there!
Devin Donnelly
On behalf of the Rules Committee and the Referees’ Commission