Fencing has a proud Olympic tradition in the UK dating back over one hundred years to when our men’s épée team won consecutive silver medals in the 1908 London and 1912 Stockholm games. Medals have however been relatively few and far between in the sport since. The painful statistic is that Britain have taken only one gold medal in the Olympic fencing since the very first modern Games in 1896. That went to Gillian Sheen, a 28-year-old dental surgeon from London, in the foil in Melbourne in 1956.
But how many people in the UK actually take part in fencing on a regular basis? British Fencing has almost 10,000 members while roughly 25,000 more take part recreationally. There are in the region of 400 fencing clubs in the UK and the governing body has a high-performance centre in Hendon, used by the athletes of the world-class programme: the men’s foil and sabre teams.
But according to Statista, a statistics portal with than 18,000 sources, the number of participants plummeted from 27,600 in 2014/15 to just over 10,000 a year later. These figures may go someway to suggesting why UK Sport decided to slash fencing’s funding to zero in December last year.
Over the next four-year cycle, leading up to the Tokyo Games in 2020, the sport will receive not a penny to match the £3.1million it received from the national lottery, via UK Sport, to prepare its campaign for Rio in 2016. Where some sports had their funding raised and others saw it reduced by a relatively small percentage, fencing shared its bad news of zero funding with archery, badminton, weightlifting and wheelchair rugby.
The 11 Olympic and Paralympic sports ‘thrown under the bus’ in funding cuts last year did have had a ‘positive’ meeting with UK Sport chair Katherine Grainger in August. It follows a campaign they launched in June to challenge UK Sport’s ‘no compromise’ approach to funding. They would like to see a “tiered support structure” that would guarantee every Olympic and Paralympic sport a base-level of funding.
The irony is however, that UK fencing is actually may actually be more primed for an assault on Olympic medals than it has been for over a generation. Richard Kruse has moved up to world number four after winning gold in the men’s foil at the Cairo World Cup in October. The London fencer, 34, defeated former world champions Alexey Cherimisinov of Russia and another Italian, Andrea Cassara, en route to the final.
Did you know?
- Fencing burns over 450 calories an hour. More than swimming or jogging.
- It strengthens the thighs, calves, bottom and stomach while developing cardie-vascular fitness and coordination.
- Fencing improves mental agility: it develops fast and accurate decision-making under pressure.
- It is a lifelong sport which can be taken up at any age between 7 and 70. Young fencers naturally have speed and agility. The age brings in better anticipation, timing and tactical skills.
- Ballet was initially based on fencing steps and positions while modern boxing matches started as a substitute for fencing bouts!
Dream Fencing runs a seven week beginners course at its branches in Fulham and Richmond at a cost of £100. Go to https://www.dreamfencing.co.uk/en/pages/where/dream-fencing-club-fulham/ or call 07581782848 for more information.