Swedish Fencing Federation accuses the FIE of breaking good governance principles

Officials from the Swedish Fencing Federation have accused the FIE Executive Committee of breaching the IOC Code of Ethics and FIE Statutes after a proposal made by the organization was not included on the agenda for the upcoming FIE Congress.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Modern Pentathlon - Men's Fencing - Bonus Round - Tokyo Stadium - Tokyo, Japan - August 7, 2021. Shohei Iwamoto of Japan in action with Charles Fernandez of Guatemala REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Modern Pentathlon - Men's Fencing - Bonus Round - Tokyo Stadium - Tokyo, Japan - August 7, 2021. Shohei Iwamoto of Japan in action with Charles Fernandez of Guatemala REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Officials from the Swedish Fencing Federation have accused the International Fencing Federation (FIE) Executive Committee of breaking the principles of good governance. The grievance stems from a Olympic qualification proposal made by the Swedish Fencing Federation that has been left off the agenda for the upcoming FIE Congress.

In a letter sent to Around the Rings, Otto Drakenberg, President of the Swedish Fencing Federation, has accused the FIE of failure to send the proposal to the proper commissions, failure to supply the Swedish Fencing Federation with a official explanation of the FIE Executive Committee’s decision on the proposal, failure to supply the Swedish Fencing Federation with documentation of the FIE’s discussions about the proposal with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), and breaches of the Olympic Charter and FIE Statutes regarding the Olympic qualification procedure.

In the letter, Drakenberg stated, “our opinion is that the handling of our proposal is not in accordance with the democratic rights of each member federation of the FIE.”

“The [FIE] Statutes leave no possibility for the [FIE] Executive Committee to avoid presenting proposals to the Congress or to omit sending them to the relevant Commissions for study, provided they meet the formal requirements.”

“Further, it is for the FIE Congress to decide on Olympic issues and matters, including the qualification system to the Olympic Games and the negotiation mandate, within which boundaries the Executive Committee shall carry out its discussions and negotiations with the IOC.”

In a statement sent to Around the Rings, Pierre Thullberg, Secretary General of the Swedish Fencing Federation, said, “it is clear that the current leadership of the FIE is doing what it can to avoid having a free discussion, at Congress in Lausanne, about the qualification criteria for the Olympic Games in Paris 2024.”

“The proposal from the Swedish Fencing Federation has not been sent out to the member federations before the Congress and most likely the Swedish proposal will not be put forward to the Congress for a vote, in spite of the fact that according to the FIE Statutes it is for the Congress, not the Comex, to decide on Olympic matters and issues.”

While the exact details of the Swedish Fencing Federation’s Paris 2024 Olympic qualification proposal have not been shared with Around the Rings, the documents provided suggest the proposal has to do with decreasing the amount entries in the team events, and decreasing the maximum amount of fencers a country is allowed to enter in the individual events.

The entire saga seems to have begun with a letter signed by the presidents of 24 national fencing federations, sent to FIE President Alisher Usmanov, that identified two reasons for changing the Olympic qualification system.

The first issue was that “the current system results in only a very small number of fencing federations being involved with the Olympic Games, and the divide between these countries and the large number of countries who have no participant whatsoever is constantly increasing.”

With the second reason being, “the team qualification absorbs such a large part of the total quota that some of the highest ranked athletes in the world in each weapon are prevented from participating in the individual competitions, making the individual competitions less prestigious and also treating world-class athletes unfairly.”

FILE PHOTO: Russian businessman and founder of USM Holdings Alisher Usmanov attends a session during the Week of Russian Business, organized by the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP), in Moscow, Russia March 16, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: Russian businessman and founder of USM Holdings Alisher Usmanov attends a session during the Week of Russian Business, organized by the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP), in Moscow, Russia March 16, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin/File Photo

Some of the suggestions then laid out by the presidents of the national fencing federations included transferable accreditations and changing the status of P-accredited athletes.

In a response to that letter, FIE President Alisher Usmanov, raised concerns about the suggestions and explained why he thought they would be unsuccessful. Among his reasons were the IOC’s decision to cap the athlete quota for Paris 2024 at 10,500 athletes, and the difficulty and duration it took the FIE just to get all twelve fencing events on the Olympic program.

In a likely reference to Giorgio Scarso, President of the Italian Fencing Federation and one of the signatories on the original letter, Usmanov stated, “I could not help but notice that at least one of the signatories of the letter is a member of the FIE Executive Committee who knows everything about negotiations with the IOC for Paris 2024 as the FIE Executive Committee discussed this issue last year.”

“I wonder what could be the motivation, political or others, for raising the same issue once again, although the answer is obvious. These attempts could initiate a conflict with the International Olympic Committee or create a wrong impression about the FIE with the IOC’s Sport Department.”

Usmanov concluded his letter, saying, “is the current qualification system perfect? Undoubtedly not. Any qualification system is not perfect, and we all know that. But the current system unquestionably has its advantages and pluses by providing quotas for all our zones and by being gender equal.”

“This is a unique opportunity for fencers and teams from each zone to qualify and participate in the Olympic Games, and for the International Fencing Federation to further promote its aim of increasing the development and popularity of fencing throughout the world.”

“Should we consider improving the existing system? Yes, we should. When should we do it? We should contemplate all available options after the Tokyo Olympic Games, and we should do so carefully, diligently and thoroughly.”

According to the Swedish Fencing Federation, who highlighted the phrase “all available options” in documents sent to Around the Rings, Usmanov is not open to all available options.

It was after the initial exchange of these letters that the Swedish Fencing Federation submitted their proposal for the Paris 2024 Olympic qualification system.

It was then relayed to the Swedish Fencing Federation in July that their proposal would not be considered by the FIE. In a letter sent to Drakenberg, FIE Secretary General Emmanuel Katsiadakis wrote, “Because of the process of developing an Olympic Games qualification system and the ultimate decision-making power of the IOC, your proposal is not a proper subject for an FIE Rule.”

“It does however give us an indication of the direction you would like our negotiation to go and we will keep the principles you enunciated in mind when we sit down with the IOC.”

“As you know from past history, making even a minor change to the qualification system, can be a slow process. Note how many quadrennia it took us to get the extra 2 medals so that all teams could be represented at the Games.”

Drakenberg responded to the decision with surprise, and stated that rules within the Olympic Charter and FIE Statutes make the proposal legal and eligible for consideration at the FIE Congress.

One of the rules cited by Drakenberg was bye-law 40.1 of the Olympic Charter which states, “each IF establishes its sport’s rules for participation in the Olympic Games, including qualification criteria, in accordance with the Olympic Charter. Such criteria must be submitted to the IOC Executive Board for approval.”

He stated, “it is clear from this text that the IOC must approve the qualification criteria. However, they would always be expected to accept the proposal of the international federation, provided that the principles of the Olympic Charter and the quota are respected.”

He later cited article 3.1.a)ii) which states the FIE Congress should handle “proposals to change the Rules and Olympic Games issues shall occur in the 1st year after the Olympic year.”

He also cited article 3.1.a)iii) which states the FIE Congress should handle “proposals to change the Statutes and remaining matters concerning the Olympic Games shall occur in the 2nd year after the Olympic year.”

The Swedish Fencing Federation then sent a letter to the Legal Commission and Ethics Committee of the FIE claiming that the FIE Executive Committee was in potential breach of the FIE Statutes and IOC Code of Ethics .

The FIE Congress is due to take place in Lausanne, Switzerland and is scheduled for November 27, 2021.