Krs FK leaves the Norwegian Fencing Federation

The following is a translation of a post in the Norwegian newspaper «Fædrelandsvennen»:  http://lokalsporten.fvn.no/fekteklubben-melder-seg-ut-av-norges-fekteforbund/

Kristiansand Fencing Club (Krs FK) has recently sent a letter terminating its membership of the Norwegian Fencing Federation (NF).  The club remains a member of the Norwegian Sports Organisation (NIF) [national governing body of all sports in Norway] through its membership of Vest-Agder Idrettskrets [regional office of NIF].

This has been an unusual and difficult case, which has drained the club of much energy and motivation. The club was established in 2009, in a region where there had not been a fencing club for many decades.

Krs FK is unique in Norway as the only fencing club with foil and sabre, two official Olympic disciplines of the fencing sport which in Norway died out in the 1980s.   We can say that Krs FK revived foil and sabre when we started beginners’ courses and regular training sessions for children, youth and adults in these two sports.

As a relatively new club for completely new and unknown sports, we still face many challenges.  The fencing federation is supposed to be the dedicated sports federation for all of the fencing sport, not only the majority discipline.  We had therefore expected a normal cooperation with our fencing federation, in the work to develop fencing in Kristiansand and Sørlandet [southern region of Norway].

We have received many questions as to why the fencing federation refuses to work for equal opportunities for growth and development for foil and sabre, in line with NIF’s stated diversity goal:

Aim:   the sports movement shall stimulate diversity and accommodation of everyone in Norwegian sports, by:

  • allowing new sports to come forth, and giving them the same opportunities for growth and development
  • all sports being treated according to the same principle internally in the sports movement and by public authorities
  • the rights of the sports being linked to activity and not how they are organised.

Here are some of the arguments that have been put forward in this matter:

– The fencing federation has… very limited economic and administrative resources. Pooling the resources for one prioritised weapon discipline is the only way for Norwegian fencing to survive, grow and develop.  To use resources to develop foil and sabre at the present time is the same as prioritising some 30 foil and sabre fencers and down-prioritising around 1370 epee fencers.

NF President Junjie Cao, in the matter where Krs FK proposed to the NF general assembly 2014 that NF henceforth should work for equal opportunities for growth and development for all three weapons.  [Cao’s figure for epee fencers is incorrect. There are only approx. 700 active epee fencers in Norway.]

“- The probability that I would have won a medal would have been much smaller if the fencing federation had backed all three weapons.

[Bartosz] Piasecki believes that with the small membership that fencing has in Norway, one must back the weapon that has the biggest following and is the simplest to fence with, in order to achieve results.

Foil and sabre have much more complicated rules. I do not have a chance to make myself noticed in those weapons, and I have been in the fencing environment for 20 years, says the Olympic winner to NRK.no.”     ( http://www.nrk.no/sport/konflikt-i-fektemiljoet-1.11430545 )

– This [interest in foil and sabre] concerns a very small minority… It is a triviality unworthy of the federation’s time.

Board member of the Norwegian Fencing Federation, 2012-14

– Sweden’s backing of foil has weakened their epee results.

National epee team member and epee club representative, in NF general assembly 2014.

– We decided many years ago to discontinue foil in our club.

Epee club representative, in NF general assembly 2014.

– Foil equipment is very expensive.

Honorary NF member, in NF general assembly 2014.

Krs FK has since 2012 experienced an increasing level of “weapon discrimination” and paternalistic top-down attitudes from the fencing federation. For instance, our fencing activities have been excluded from applying for NF grassroots development funds, down-prioritised in the allocation of resources for regional development and excluded from NF’s long-term plan. This comes on top of a total absence of activity and activity development by the federation for foil and sabre.

Krs FK has since its inception and joining NF in 2009 clearly stated to NF that we wish to fence and develop foil and sabre.  During the first years with beginners, the availability of competitions and courses in Norway was not an important concern. However, it has now been 5 years of activity vacuum for our children and youngsters who fence foil and sabre. They still have no opportunities to participate in national ranking competitions, national championships, courses and training camps, unlike their epee-fencing peers.  Without any opportunities for competition and development, foil and sabre fencing are reduced to mere exercise activities in Norway.  This damages the motivation of the youngsters, and results in them leaving the sport.

We do not expect the fencing federation to guarantee equal opportunities for the minority weapons to grow and develop overnight.  But we do expect that the federation should commit to working for all three weapons getting equal opportunities for growth and development, in line with the NIF’s diversity goal and fundamental values of equality and inclusion.

Krs FK considers that fencing activity, regardless of weapon, has an intrinsic value, especially in the areas of activities for children, youth and public health. We seek equal opportunities where weapon choice is not a relevant allocation criterion, as was the case in the autumn of 2012 when NF established a recruitment scheme exclusively for epee equipment.  A few examples of what we mean by equal opportunities:

  • when Krs FK carries out a fencing activity for children and youth where we use foil or sabre, the club should be eligible for NF grassroots and recruitment funding on the same basis as clubs that carry out similar activities with epees.
  • as soon as our foil and sabre talents can present good results, they should have equal opportunities to obtain travel subsidy and national team support, as do epee talents who achieve similar results in their weapon.
  • NF should revise its long term development plan to include activity development for foil and sabre, in addition to epee.
  • NF should use weapon-neutral criteria and targets when working as a fencing federation for the promotion of Norwegian fencing.

By way of conclusion, we hope that this matter also serves to highlight a hole in NIF’s constitution concerning minority protection and conflict of interests in small sports environments dominated and controlled by a majority discipline.

NIF’s starting point of “self governance in the sports movement” has in this case allowed “epee tyranny” by the majority.  NIF’s many fundamental values (sports enjoyment for everyone, equality, inclusion, diversity etc) have been insufficient to secure equal opportunities for growth and development for the minority club Krs FK and our foil and sabre fencers.

We have missed having clear provisions in the NIF statute on limits of a sports federation’s authority to exclude or down-prioritise minority disciplines, and the clubs and athletes who wish to develop in such disciplines.  Alternatively NIF’s diversity goal could be incorporated in the NIF statute, or possibly the conflict of interest provisions expanded.  We hope proposals to this effect can be put forward at the general assembly of NIF in 2015.

Krs FK will notify the International Fencing Federation (FIE) and IOC President Thomas Bach (Olympic medallist in foil fencing) about this matter.   We will ask FIE to pass a specific diversity and equality objective, whereby national fencing federations are encouraged to use weapon-neutral criteria and work towards all three weapons receiving equal opportunities for growth and development.

Photos from Krs FK activities 2009-2014:

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