In November 2014, the Italian city of Turin hosted the first FIE Grand Prix series event, part of a drive by world fencing’s governing body to revitalise, raise the profile of and better commercialise its Key non-Olympic events.
« We basically only appreared on the television at the Olympic Games and the world championship, so once a year » explains Krisztian Kulcsar, the former world champion who is now the FIE’s sports director. «With the Grand Prix series we are going to organise events at almost the same high level as the world championships nine times in a year. The locations are extremely good. »
From Turin, tge sport’s leading proponents made their way to Doha, the Qatari capital hosting the early stages of its Grand Prix at its Aspire facility before staging the finals in a local mall in front of hundreds of curious shoppers. New York was the next stop, followed by a meeting in Havana, Cuba. Budapest, the capital of Hungary and a historic fencing hotspot, will be next, followed by events in South Korean capital Seoul, Shanghai in China, the next Olympic city Rio de Janeiro and the sabre finale in the Russian capital Moscow in June.
« We chose existing organisers, » explains Frederic Pietruszka, the FIE’s secretary general and the Olympic foil champion in 1980. « We know there are strong organisers in some countries – countries like Italy, Hungary, China, Russia and Korea are historical federations. In the Americas we chose the US because it is a strong country in fencing, we chose Havana because of the strong history of foiling there and we chose Rio because the Olympic Games are there »
Kulcsar adds : « These competitions can be tailor-made according to the needs of the local environment, the local organisers. All the organisers have to meet requirements, of course – very clear rules which are in our handbooks – but besides that the local characteristic of the competition remains. » Kulcsar confirms « so far we are all satisfied » He adds : « One of the concrete results of the modernisation is to attract new sponsors to the FIE. Once we have that, the aim is to give back the money to the organizers to enhance the level of the organization.
« It’s not a challenge for one year, it’s a challenge for the long-term, » Pietruszka says. He continues : « For the first time we are marketing a product – before we just wanted to show fencing, but without objectives. Now, we have a strong objective : to show the sport differently and market it. »
« We are constantly changing the rules, fine turing them not necessarily dramatically but change that will make the sport more understandable, » Kristian Kulcsar says at the Doha Grand Prix. « We reformed the refereeing, introducing a video referee and we made big steps by having a clean view on the competition venue layout. If you look at it now, it’s now perfect but having the completion run from the director table on four coloured pistes, it’s something that helps. »
« In fencing you have the chance to be as close as possible so you will see their actions close in, » says Kulcsar. « You will also see this is 100 per cent a contact sport ; it is one versus the other and it is also a game where you have to be smarter than your opponent. »