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Fencing Rattled by Suspensions and Accusations Forward of Olympics

Fencing Rattled by Suspensions and Accusations Ahead of Olympics

Fencing is a distinct segment however basic sport within the Olympics, contested at each Summer season Video games since 1896. But regardless of its genteel status and easy goal — contact an opponent together with your blade earlier than being touched — the game has lengthy been rife with drama and suspicion.

Two months earlier than the Paris Olympicsworldwide saber fencing is engulfed by questions concerning the integrity of refereeing, accusations of preferential remedy and considerations amongst prime athletes and coaches that their sport’s tangled connections could also be serving to resolve who will get to compete on the Video games.

The federation that governs fencing in the USA, USA Fencing, recently suspended two international referees after they acknowledged speaking with one another throughout an Olympic qualifying match in California. It grew so involved about two different referees that it requested the game’s world governing physique to make sure that these two judges had been not assigned to any matches involving Individuals.

And simply final week, greater than a half-dozen elite fencers demanded harsher punishments and urgent action to guard a sport that they are saying is “susceptible to unfair refereeing and match-fixing.”

“A part of me feels so silly for pondering all this time” that the game was constructed on honor, integrity and dedication, mentioned Andrew Mackiewicz, 28, an American saber fencer who competed on the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

“It wasn’t,” he added. “It was like a mirage.” He mentioned he stepped away from the game in February due to his considerations about unscrupulous refereeing.

Whereas fencing depends on digital scoring, it’s referees who parse the sophisticated guidelines of assault throughout every match and resolve if a degree, or contact, is legitimate. These guidelines convey a component of subjectivity to the scoring, and saber fencing, one of many sport’s three disciplines together with épée and foil, might be notably difficult as a result of its athletes lunge explosively at each other and ship touches almost concurrently.

Subjectivity “creates quite a lot of room for corruption,” which might be troublesome to show, mentioned Yury Gelman, a longtime fencing coach at St. John’s College in New York who will coach his seventh Olympics on the Paris Video games. In an interview, Mr. Gelman expressed frustration that little was being finished to handle saber fencing’s issues.

The referees who had been suspended final month by USA Fencing, Jacobo Morales and Brandon Romo, have been barred from judging matches in tournaments overseen by the federation for 9 months. They denied any manipulation of the match. An investigation into their conduct started after they appeared to have communicated throughout a match in January involving a prime American saber fencer, Tatiana Nazlymov, 19, at an Olympic qualifying match.

USA Fencing had initially sought 10-year bans for each males however finally selected lesser punishments after a disciplinary panel report, reviewed by The New York Instances, discovered “the looks of impropriety” however no credible proof to assist collusion or different manipulation.

They weren’t the one referees, although, who had drawn the eye of the American federation. Months earlier, Phil Andrews, the chief govt of USA Fencing, had written with alarm to the game’s world governing physique, the Worldwide Fencing Federation, to precise concern that there was “prone to be improper officiating” of bouts involving Ms. Nazlymov and one other main American saber fencer, Mitchell Saron.

In its letter, which was despatched on Dec. 3 and reviewed by The Instances, USA Fencing mentioned it was primarily involved with two referees, Vasil Milenchev of Bulgaria and Yevgeniy Dyaokokin of Kazakhstan. Video proof, the letter mentioned, indicated that calls made by these referees in bouts involving Mr. Saron and Ms. Nazlymov confirmed “a possible favoritism” towards them.

Because of this, USA Fencing requested that Mr. Milenchev and Mr. Dyaokokin not be assigned to bouts involving any American fencers. Mr. Andrews mentioned he understood that the Worldwide Fencing Federation responded to the letter with an investigation however was unaware of its end result.

The worldwide federation didn’t reply to requests for remark, however each referees continue to judge matches involving American fencers. Makes an attempt to succeed in Mr. Milenchev and Mr. Dyaokokin via the worldwide federation had been unsuccessful.

In a second letter written by USA Fencing that was despatched to Ms. Nazlymov and Mr. Saron on Dec. 18 and likewise reviewed by The Instances, Mr. Andrews advised the athletes that the federation was conscious that “potential preferential officiating remedy” was benefiting their performances in worldwide competitions, and warned them that they might be stripped of some factors they’d amassed towards Olympic qualification if “sturdy proof” of match manipulation emerged.

Ms. Nazlymov and Mr. Saron have since been named to the U.S. group for the Paris Olympics. And by March, USA Fencing’s considerations appeared to have eased. Mr. Saron acknowledged via a spokesman that on March 6 he had obtained a textual content message, which was reviewed by The Instances, from a federation official saying that he was not a trigger for concern.

Mr. Andrews mentioned in an interview that there was no proof that both fencer knew of or knowingly took benefit of improper refereeing. And preliminary outcomes from an independent investigation into match manipulation in saber fencing discovered “no proof that particular person U.S. fencers had been actively concerned in manipulating their very own bouts,” the federation mentioned in late April.

Ms. Nazlymov didn’t reply to a request for remark. However her mom, Zheng Wang, wrote in an e mail that “Tatiana is completely harmless and the dishonest/matchfixing accusation is ridiculous.”

The most recent flashpoint got here in early January, when Ms. Nazlymov was concerned within the match on the North American Cup in San Jose, Calif.

In line with a USA Fencing disciplinary panel, with the rating tied at 12-12, Mr. Romo started to hunt enter from Mr. Morales earlier than awarding factors to both fencer, and Mr. Morales acknowledged responding through hand gestures. Such communication is a violation of fencing’s guidelines.

Howard Jacobs, a California lawyer who represented Mr. Morales, the extra skilled referee, mentioned his consumer was merely affirming calls that the less-experienced Mr. Romo deliberate to make, and that no choices had been modified due to their communications. In line with the report, Mr. Romo mentioned he was in search of solely affirmation of his supposed calls.

A video posted online that confirmed Mr. Morales signaling additionally confirmed Ms. Nazlymov’s coach sitting close to and speaking to Mr. Morales in some unspecified time in the future through the match. Neither referee disputed the video, USA Fencing mentioned.

In line with testimony at a listening to, the coach, Fikrat Valiyev, requested Mr. Morales who Mr. Romo was and one other query unrelated to the bout, however the two didn’t talk about any calls, Mr. Jacobs mentioned. Ms. Nazlymov narrowly received the match, 15-14.

Mr. Andrews, the USA Fencing chief govt, mentioned that there was “no proof that Tatiana herself is at fault” within the refereeing dispute.

Ms. Nazlymov is a member of one in all fencing’s most outstanding households. Her grandfather, Vladimir Nazlymov, received three Olympic gold medals within the group saber competitors for the previous Soviet Union, and her father, Vitali Nazlymov, is a former N.C.A.A. particular person champion.

Her coach, Mr. Valiyev, is a two-time Olympic saber fencer from Azerbaijan, however he additionally exemplifies the sophisticated relationships that exist in elite fencing. Along with serving as Ms. Nazlymov’s major coach, he works on the Nazlymov household fencing academy in Maryland and as a global referee on the Olympic stage.

Ms. Wang, Ms. Nazlymov’s mom, mentioned in an e mail that her daughter had been unfairly accused in what she described as a “doctored” video posted in January by Andrew Fischl, an American coach and former elite saber fencer.

Mr. Fischl, who commonly posts fencing videosmentioned he obtained two items of uncooked video from the January match and zoomed in on the bout however didn’t change the order of any motion, distort any prevalence or make any accusations. “I simply confirmed what occurred and was like, that is bizarre and inappropriate,” Mr. Fischl mentioned.

Mr. Valiyev has not been accused of any impropriety and mentioned in an e mail that he had by no means tried to control matches. However he has come underneath scrutiny in different movies posted on-line for doable conflicts of curiosity by teaching and refereeing on the identical competitors, and by refereeing matches involving Uzbek fencers whereas Vladimir Nazlymov was teaching Uzbekistan’s nationwide group or particular person Uzbek athletes.

Mr. Valiyev, responding by e mail with Vitali Nazlymov, mentioned that he behaved based on the foundations. However the two coaches acknowledged that “fencing is a small world and conflicts exist in all places.”

Eli Dershwitz, 28, the 2023 world saber champion from the USA, mentioned that whereas irregularities occurred in fencing “on a regular basis,” he believed within the integrity of the game and his Olympic teammates. “If I assumed there was one thing blatantly mistaken occurring, I might say one thing,” Mr. Dershwitz mentioned.

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