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Principles of Refereeing Fencing

The following is a guide to understanding the refereeing of fencing and the process by which presidents award points.  It should be noted that these general principles, while they may underpin some rules, are not rules themselves.  The actual decisions of the president must be governed by the rules and the facts, and appeals against those decisions may only be based on the rules – the principles outlined below have no standing under the rules.

 This guide is aimed primarily at parents and friends of fencers, to allow you to understand roughly what the president is saying and why points are awarded as they are.  Fencers need to learn much more about the specific rules themselves.



The referee's job is to ensure the safe and fair conduct of the bout.  Occasionally these two conflict, as the referee must prevent or penalise disorderly or dangerous fencing while not restricting the fencers' ability to compete with each other.  The referee is also responsible for the maintenance of order in his/her pool or bout or around his/her piste.  The referee has a jurisdiction over all fencers in the competition and all persons present in the venue.  The older term for a referee is a president (as the president was the president of the jury of judges before the use of electric apparatus).

 Fencers start each point and each time period behind the guard lines. If they are stopped for a hit that does not result in a point being awarded, then they are placed on guard at an appropriate distance where they stopped.

  A hit must be landed on valid target to be considered.  This means that it must land with the point in foil and epee, or with the point or blade in sabre, and must land on the valid target as defined for that weapon.  This is measured by the electrical apparatus and a hit may not be awarded if the apparatus does not receive it.


The president must halt the bout if one fencer commits an illegal action.  These include: turning, stepping off the side of the piste, passing the opponent, jostling or corps-a-corps (touching the opponent with part of the body), crossing the rear of the piste.  In all these cases the president will stop the action by calling "Halt".  The president will penalise the fencer at fault as specified in the rules, e.g. loss of 1 metre for stepping off the side of the piste, loss of a point for crossing the rear of the piste.

  The fencer who commits an illegal action may not score a point by it, though the opponent may.  In practice this means that the fencer who commits the illegal action may not score after it is committed, e.g. after they have turned, passed, left the piste etc.  The opponent may, if their action began before the halt, score a point by hitting after the halt with the same action.

 The president may annul a hit registered by the apparatus if he/she can establish that the apparatus or fencer's equipment was malfunctioning.  The malfunction might cause a hit to be registered falsely or cause a hit by the opponent to fail to register.  Not all detected malfunctions require the president to annul the point.  In any case, the president can only annul the last point, and only if fencing has not recommenced and the equipment has not been used or modified by the fencer subsequently.

If the box registers a hit by each fencer: at epee, both fencers will receive a point, this means they each hit within 40 ms of the other; at foil and sabre, the president will award the point to the fencer whose hit he/she judges to have had priority.

 Bouts are won by the first fencer to reach a particular score.  For pool bouts, this is 5 points.  For most DE bouts it is 15. If, in epée, the scores are 4-4 in a pool bout or 14-14 in a DE bout then double-hits are not counted.


 Bouts are limited in effective time.  This means that a bout runs only for a specified length of time.  This time is the "effective time", i.e. the time between the commands "Fence" and "Halt".  This is timed by a stop-watch with is started on "Fence" and stopped on "Halt".  For pool bouts this time limit is three minutes and for most DE bouts it is three-periods of three minutes with a minute rest between each period.  In sabre the first period ends when one fencer reaches 8 points, because sabre bouts are extremely fast.  If the time runs out before one fencer reaches the winning score then the bout is won by the fencer whose score is highest at the end.  If both scores are equal then the president draws lots between the fencers (by flipping a coin or using the random indicator on the box) and announces to each fencer the result of the draw.  Then the clock is set to one minute and the bout starts again, to be won by the next point, or by the fencer who won the draw if there is no point scored after the extra minute.


Appeals against a president's decisions can only be based on the rules and can only be made to the DT by the fencer concerned.  This means that coaches, parents and teammates cannot appeal to the DT on behalf of a fencer (the exception is that the team captain may do so in teams matches), and that an appeal must be on the grounds that the president misapplied the rules, not that he/she failed to see an action correctly.  The DT has no power to override a president's decision of fact, i.e. the president's view of what happened, even if a member of the DT saw the action in question.  The appeal can only be considered if it is on the grounds that the president, having phrased the action that he/she saw, awarded the points or penalties incorrectly under the rules.