As you may have heard by now, the International Fencing Federation (FIE) has instituted a new rule governing what will happen if two fencers are unwilling to fight in competition. The FIE is considered the governing body, recognized globally and by the International Olympic Committee, for the fencing world. The organization oversees creation and implementation of all rules during international tournaments or competitions.

What is Unwillingness to Fight?

Fencers are supposed to fence, right? You’d think so, but some are under the assumption that if they remain still they can goad their opponent into making the first move. While this could in theory be a valid strategy, it becomes problematic when two competitors are facing each other doing the same thing. The clock winds down with no movement, no points, and no competition — no way for the judge to declare a winner for the bout.

New FIE Guidelines for Unwillingness to Fight

Previous to this, FIE guidelines stated that an unwillingness to fight was when “There is unwillingness to fight when there is approximately one minute of fencing without a hit or without a hit scored off the target.” The new rule removes the word “approximately” from the equation, giving referee the ability to apply a shot clock timer to the situation at hand. As soon as the minute is up, the referee can end the bout.

Under the old rules, non-combativity would result in the bount ending, the fighters receiving a break, and advancement to the next period. Now, competitors will be given penalties and the bout will continue in the same period.

The New Application of Penalties

Under the rules, P-cards can be assigned when the referee calls the bout for non-combativeness. P-Yellow cards are warnings, P-red cards represent penalty hits, and P-black cards are penalties that can result in disqualification or the loss of the match.

This is where things get tricky, though. If the score is tied when the referee makes the call, both competitors may receive a P-card. If the score is not tied, the competitor with the lower score takes the card. If one or both team receives three red cards, they are disqualified and the bout ends. This means if the bout remains tied, and both competitors receive cards each time the clock runs to a minute, they could both be disqualified from the same bout.

There is a little uncertainty as to how the rule will be applied in competition as it rolls out. Be sure to talk to your coaches about your strategy so you don’t find yourself in a position where you are accused of being unwilling to fight. That is, after all, what you’re there for!