Rules Blog: Falling

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Feb 132018

Both fencers and referees often ask about what constitutes “falling” during fencing and when it should be penalized. An oft-heard refrain is “aren’t I allowed three points of contact with the strip?” and “isn’t four points of contact falling?”

Why we have a “falling” rule

The rule penalizing a “touch while falling” is intended to penalize fencers that throw themselves off balance or leave their feet to evade or deliver a hit (with regards to falling; jumping is permitted). This action can be deliberate, or at can be as a result of reckless or uncontrolled fencing.

Cases like these are actually discussed in rule t.87.2, which stipulates that “irregular actions” are subject to penalty. There are several examples in the text of t.87.2, but no codified descriptions of exactly what body motions are “allowed” or “not allowed”. These are subject to the referee’s best judgment. The penalty chart lists “touches made during or after a fall”, which are a subset of the “irregular actions” mentioned in t.87.2.

The rule is not intended to penalize fencers who, in the course of normal/controlled fencing actions, experience an accidental slip (for example, as their foot lands at the end of a lunge).

The “points of contact” myth

The idea of “points of contact” is a long-standing informal mnemonic used by some referees, and taught in some referee seminars, to determine what is a controlled motion and what is an uncontrolled fall. It is not mentioned in the rule book at all, and is not the primary determining factor as to what constitutes “falling”. The origin is likely that it was extrapolated by inference from rule t.21.1, which states “Displacing target and ducking are allowed even if during the action the unarmed hand and/or knee of the back leg come into contact with the strip.”

The idea of “points of contact” is just one way that a referee can use his or her judgment to determine whether or not a motion is controlled or uncontrolled. The points in rule t.21.1 about the unarmed hand or knee of the rear leg are specific examples, and were added to keep referees from over-penalizing controlled displacements. They are also artifacts of the translation from the official French to English.

Judging a fall correctly

When judging whether or not a fencer “fell” (made an uncontrolled motion to evade or score a touch), I suggest you consider the following factors:

1) Did the fencer’s motion result in them ending in a stable position on the strip with at least one foot on the piste? Could they then remain stable in that position? If so, the motion is probably “controlled” and should not be penalized.

2) Did the fencer lose contact with the strip with their feet? Is their primary point of contact now their posterior, hip, stomach, etc? If so, the motion is “uncontrolled” and should be penalized.

3) Was the fencer attempting to evade, or were they making an orthodox fencing action (a lunge or retreat for example) and they slipped? In the vast majority of cases, a fencer making a regular action who slips owing to piste conditions should not be penalized. The referee’s judgment is more or less the sole arbiter in these cases.

Halting the action

Regardless of whether or not a fencer is penalized for a fall or evasion, should a fencer fall or evade in such a way as to bring their unarmed hand or rear knee in contact with the strip without a touch being scored, the referee should call “halt.” Normal rules around halts then apply; an action in progress at the time of the halt should be allowed to finish.

Good luck out there,

Devin Donnelly
On behalf of the Rules Committee and Referees’ Commission

Message from Sam Cheris, Chair, USA Fencing Referees’ Commission re Complaints for Improper Behavior

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Feb 022018

A number of you were at the meeting that was held at the December NAC in Portland regarding the conduct of referees who were also coaching at events.  The specific in the Referee Code of Ethics was that “Referees are to respect other Referees to the utmost.  It is improper to publicly indicate disapproval of the actions of other referees.” As a result of our discussion, the Ombudsman modified that section to expand into social media areas.

One of the referees at the meeting asked if we could discuss the topic of sexual harassment, which had not been on the agenda, nor is it an item in the Referee Code of Ethics.  A discussion ensued wherein it was emphasized that all such issues have been mandated by the USOC to be handled by the Center for Safe Sport.

For context, the Section 16 of bylaws of USA Fencing states that “Except as otherwise provided in this Section 16, the disciplinary power of the USFA shall be exclusively vested in the Board of Directors, . . . .”  The exceptions are the competitive penalties in the Rules for Competition and the designation of the Center for Safe Sport “to investigate and resolve safe sport violations.”

The Referee Commission’s Code of Ethics and it disciplinary procedures and penalties were approved by the Board and it is only entitled to handle complaints relating to violations by referees of items in that Code of Ethics.

Since all referees were not in attendance and questions have been raised regarding the content of this meeting, I am providing a follow up with a message to all of you.

Please know that inappropriate behavior in USA Fencing will not be tolerated by USA Fencing, including its Referees’ Commission.

If you believe you have been either the victim of or a witness to sexual abuse, child sexual abuse, harassment, bullying, assault or any other prohibited misconduct, you are encouraged to report these immediately.

The question has been posed regarding the proper protocol for making a complaint regarding prohibited behavior.

In 2017, the Center for SafeSport was established to work within Olympic sport as the National Governing Bodies and the U.S. Olympic Committee strive to eliminate prohibited sexual misconduct in our sport. The Center for SafeSport is chartered with handling all sexual misconduct cases for NGBs, including those related to referees, staff, coaches and other tournament officials.

If you have been a victim of or a witness to sexual misconduct by a member of the fencing community, you are asked to contact the Center for Safe Sport at 720-531-0340 or visit the website, in order to file a complaint. The complaint can also be made directly to USA Fencing, which is required to forward all sexual misconduct complaints to the Center for Safe Sport. After submitting a SafeSport report, the Center will issue an email confirming receipt of the report and an investigation number.  The reports filed with the US Center for SafeSport are investigated exclusively by the US Center for SafeSport so any questions related to the process, procedures and timelines should be directed to the Center, referencing the unique case number.

To report all other types of misconduct, including physical assault that is non-sexual, other harassment, bullying, etc., please contact USA Fencing Safe Sport Coordinator Suzie Riewald at or 719.866.2616, and, or use the reporting form that can be found on our SafeSport webpage.

How will USA Fencing respond to SafeSport violation reports? Section VI of the policy addresses the organization’s response to violations. As appropriate, and at its discretion, USA Fencing may institute a formal investigation and hearing procedure to address serious allegations of misconduct (e.g., physical misconduct). However, USA Fencing anticipates that an investigation and hearing will be undertaken to address only the most serious allegations and patterns of behavior that warrant significant sanctions. Accordingly, USA Fencing anticipates that this disciplinary procedure will be used rarely. If a report is received, the SafeSport coordinator can review and recommend to the Executive Director, in consultation with the General Counsel, to call for a Disciplinary Panel, with approval from the Board of Directors.  Reports that allege sexual misconduct will be immediately turned over to the U.S. Center for SafeSport.

The handling of reports that do not warrant a formal investigation and hearing procedure will be addressed on a case-by-case basis.  Questions regarding process and procedures for a specific report should be directed to the USA Fencing SafeSport Coordinator.

Our SafeSport coordinator position was established in 2014 within the National Office to educate our community on Safe Sport best practices and handle complaints of misconduct and abuse. Suzie is a former elite athlete who has worked in sports for more than 20 years and holds a doctorate in sports psychology. Upon receiving a complaint, Suzie works with appropriate persons and entities to investigate and preliminarily evaluate complaints, convene disciplinary panels, if appropriate, and manage compliance issues.

For a more particularized description of SafeSport policies and procedures, see our Safe Sport Webpage here. If you have any additional questions regarding how to report inappropriate behavior or the Center for Safe Sport, please do not hesitate to contact Suzie Riewald at or 719.866.2616.

For information on SafeSport educational materials and resources for coaches, parents, club owners and athletes, visit the SafeSport section of the webpage as content is regularly added.