Wednesday, 26 October 2011

En garde!

The Guardian has a piece today on how the Olympics might finally put my sport, fencing, on the map. If only…

Taken on its own merits, it's a brilliant support. A successful fencer needs to be fit, lithe and intelligent: it's not about instincts, it's about out-thinking your opponent before either of you move. It's dramatic, fast, and could be televisual, although the sheer speed means that 'blink and you miss it' is literally true.

Unfortunately, fencing in the UK is entirely associated with private schools, the armed forces, and the reactionary fringe: to its shame, the Amateur Fencing Association helped Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists by staging fund-raising competitions - Mosley represented England and Britain in international events.

There is, without doubt, a snobbery associated with the sport. The leading fencers and administrators are all rich, posh and amateurish - despite importing some excellent professional administrators, I don't see any wish amongst the upper ranks to make the sport normal, or popular. Those in charge like being big fish in a small pool. Out in the real world, clubs like Camden, Brixton and Truro are bringing in kids from state schools and ethnic minorities - good for them and good for the sport - but our public image is exclusive and insular. In other countries, fencing is a popular, normal sport: most French towns have a salle, and competitions are shown on local TV.

Insularity breeds failure: our élite fencers occasionally pull off great results, but I watched them utterly crash and burn at the European Championships recently, and whatever they say, there's almost no chance of a medal at the Olympics. It's partly resistance to modern training, partly the way sports pyschology breeds arrogance at the cost of competence, and partly because there's been no serious attempt to create a depth of quality.

But never mind my whinging: it's a brilliant sport and change is just around the corner. There are clubs everywhere - find one here - and give it a go. And if you've got political qualms: Karl Marx was a fencer too.

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