The introduction of video replay technology at all levels of fencing has been unquestionably beneficial to the sport. Particularly in priority weapons, where the referee and the judging of touches is such a crucial part of the action, video replay provides both the ability to prevent refereeing errors from unduly affecting the outcome as well as valuable learning opportunities for referees developing their abilities at all levels.
USA Fencing referees should be aware of the basics of using video replay: The challenge system, required reviews at 14-14 or 44-44 or in overtime, etc. This edition of the Rules Blog instead addresses some common questions and best practices for using video replay.
The important thing to remember is that final decision-making responsibility for the bout rests with the referee on the strip. In fact, per article t.42, the rule book describes the “video referee” as a “video consultant”–and a consultant is exactly what they are. The job of the video consultant is to lend their opinion and expertise to the proceedings, but the ultimate responsibility for what takes place during a bout or match belongs to the referee on the strip. There is no rule, for example, that mandates that a decision be “thrown out” if the referee and consultant disagree.
That being said: Any referee, regardless of level, should approach a video appeal with an open mind. We use video replay and the consultant system to help us get things right and to help us learn. It’s a rare opportunity for us, as fencing referees, to work as a team. I encourage the on-strip referee to make the best possible use of their teammate’s help, especially if the video consultant is more experienced.
In addition, only the referee and the video consultant are to be involved in any decision regarding the bout. No one else–including the assigner or head referee, the camera operator, other officials, etc.–may contribute to the opinion. No other personnel should be inside the video replay enclosure during the bout.
Being a Good Video Consultant
To be most effective as a video consultant, the best starting point is to watch the bout live as if they were refereeing themselves, and have an opinion on each action. Watching the bout live is actually stipulated in the rules (per article t.37), and the consultant’s opinion or “feeling” for the live action can be just as helpful to the final decision as the video itself. The video representation of a bout isn’t perfect, as there is no sound and the image becomes “flattened” and two-dimensional. It’s often much harder to get a definitive feeling for an action if you’re watching it for the first time on video.
When an appeal happens, I encourage the video consultant to give their opinion definitively: “I think the action is [x].” Video consultants shouldn’t be shy with their opinions, particularly more junior consultants–learning to be a good consultant also takes practice. Again, the consultant’s opinion is another source of help and input for the on-strip referee. However, I urge both referees involved in a video bout to keep the discussion calm, quiet, and rational.
In addition, both referees should treat the discussion as confidential, and as information that doesn’t leave the area of the table for the duration of the bout. The video consultant should ensure that no other parties enter the video area during the bout–not the head referee or assigner for the event, support staff such as referee evaluators, or unassigned referee colleagues. The one exception is a technician for the video system if there are technical problems with the camera or replay system. We must take care to avoid even the appearance of undue or outside influence in replay decisions. It goes without saying that the fencers, coaches, and spectators, are not to be involved, and it is the video consultant’s responsibility to protect the video image from outside parties (such as coaches) that might seek to interfere or inject themselves into the decision-making process.
Video Replay Speeds and Action Usage
While video is helpful, take care to use it to its best advantage by understanding the system’s limitations.
In right-of-way weapons, the referees determine which fencer’s action takes priority by using an intuitive understanding of how those actions fit into convention. Fencing takes place in real time, and slow-speed analysis or frame-by-frame parsing can often introduce artificial distortion into the process. For this reason, I recommend watching priority actions such as attack/counterattack at a minimum of 80% speed.
The video system also isn’t ideal for blade actions, such as determining when and where beats or parries occurred (such as “were there two blade contacts or just one?”). The image “flattens” and loses its depth; on video, the best you’ll often do is to see a potential for blades to intersect but rarely definitive proof of contact. The absence of sound also contributes to this issue. For appeals on these cases, it’s very important for the video consultant to watch the action live and have a second opinion to aid in the decision.
For purely chronological cases, particularly in epee, feel free to use the lowest replay speed available. These are questions such as “did the action arrive before the fencer left the strip?” or “was the scoring apparatus triggered when the fencer hit the floor?” In this case, slow speed analysis (10%) or frame-by-frame parsing can help the referee and consultant be definitive in their decision-making.
Failure of the Replay Apparatus
Occasionally, owing to a technical error in the software or a manual error on the part of the camera operator, there might be actions that weren’t recorded on video. Unfortunately, the rule book does not cover this specific situation, but the FIE Handbook of Regulations and guidance from FIE Arbitrage can provide us with a standard practice:
In the case of video failure, the on-strip referee has sole responsibility for the final decision. If they have already given a decision before a video appeal, that decision stands. However, the fencer making the appeal retains their challenge.
In such a case, do not charge the fencer for a failed appeal, because the appeal was prevented by the failure of the video system. The on-strip referee should clearly explain this decision (including the decision not to charge a challenge) to both fencers, so that they’re aware of the replay situation.
Lastly, should a video failure occur, remember that it’s usually counterproductive for either the on-strip referee or the video consultant to immediately announce to the entire room that the replay apparatus has failed. Doing so only encourages outside interference in the subsequent decision from fencers, coaches, and spectators. When possible, as mentioned earlier, keep the discussion calm, quiet, and confidential.
Hopefully, this advice can help you and your referee partners use video to its greatest advantage, and help make the sport better for everybody.
Best of luck out there!
On behalf of the Referees’ Commission and Rules Committee