The city of Leipzig, Germany is experiencing two major competitions: The first is the 2017 World Fencing Championships. The other is a competition of generosity among the global fencing family. ‘Donate your Fencing Gear’, the new FIE program announced in March and tested in Plovdiv during the Junior and Cadet World Fencing Championships, exceeded expectations. The program encourages fencers and others to donate used, functional fencing gear to be shared with disadvantaged fencers worldwide. Suppliers had announced they would contribute. Support was expected, at least from some fencers. But the wave of generosity and enthusiasm exceeded even the most optimistic forecasts.
Donate your Fencing Gear was conceived last Fall, before the FIE Elective Congress. Yuki Ota, at that time President of the FIE Athletes’ Commission, believed immediately in a program that has at its core the athletes both as donors and beneficiaries. The support and involvement of the Athletes Commission was crucial for the program’s success and we are happy to say that Aron Szilagyi, who succeeded Ota as President of the Athletes Commission, was equally supportive. The FIE Executive Committee meeting in Nice in February gave its green light to the trial, and the preparatory work began.
In Plovdiv, despite its embryonic stage, Donate your Fencing Gear received a broad, positive response: a minimal promotion through social media was enough to catch the attention of the fencers, who then went to the FIE stand to leave their masks, breeches, gloves, chest protectors and fencing bags. It was in Plovdiv that Gabor Boczko, Olympic medallist in men’s epee at Rio 2016, donated his mask for the project. He must be remembered as the first fencer to make a donation, paving the way for Leipzig and many more submissions, for which the fencing family is deeply grateful. His gesture opened the way for more equipment being given to the FIE: ’I saw the post on Facebook’, said Julius Jutila, Finnish donor in Plovdiv, while giving one of his masks. During the same time, Yusuke Aoki, member of the FIE Coaches’ Council, donated his chest protector and mask. Along with fencers, coaches also wanted to show their solidarity and play an active role in this program.
The donations were a great beginning, and then beneficiaries were needed to receive the donations. In order to be eligible to receive these donations, the FIE national federations were invited to submit various programs, projects, and initiatives targeting disadvantaged areas where people rarely even dare of dreaming to fence, as the cost of equipment represents an insurmountable obstacle. The time has come for obstacles to be removed and the word “insurmountable” to be retired.
Honduras, Senegal, Kyrgyzstan, Colombia, Rwanda and Brazil responded to the invitation and presented sport-for-all and sport for hope initiatives, each of them deserving to be endorsed and developed. This presented a difficult choice for the fencers, called to select the country they want to support with their gesture.
As the World Championships approached, Donate your Fencing Gear won approval from every side. Edina Czegledy, FIE Legal Commission member, volunteered to provide legal assistance and the legal framework for the Charity Agreement that would bind the FIE and the national federation recipients. Yuki Ota boosted his support, and, matching the spirit of the project, offered to the FIE a tool for promotion, an animation video capturing the soul of the program: giving fencing gear so as many people as possible can enjoy fencing. A great part of the success of the collection in Leipzig is due to his generosity. In further support of the program, Janet Huggins, FIE SEMI commission member, agreed to modify her trip to Leipzig for the Commission meeting, arriving in Germany on the 19th of July rather than on the 24th. ‘It is the second time that I put a stamp on this jacket’, she observed, while marking it with the green stamp of Leipzig 2017 on clothing donated by Aron Szilagyi. ‘the first time was in London 2012—look at this stamp!’ Ms. Huggins was appointed as SEMI Delegate ad hoc in order to check that the used equipment donated by the fencers could be used safely. Only 5 gloves and 2 plastrons were rejected, all the rest are fine’, she said.
In addition, thanks to the solidarity shown by the manufacturers offering brand new equipment, part the FIE main office was transformed into a storage room, where it was barely possible to walk. PBT decided they would not have a stand in Leipzig, and so they shipped from Budapest six carton boxes containing all sorts of equipment: gloves, socks, masks, breeches, jackets, electric jackets, guards, plastrons and more. Allstar, besides providing transportation and storage services for the items collected in Plovdiv, donated brand-new clothing. So did Uhlmann, that already granted regular support for the next editions of the program. To cut a long story short, just doing the inventory of the equipment by the manufacturers took an entire working day.
‘We need more fencing bags, and I’m going to negotiate with the manufacturers’, remarked FIE Secretary Treasurer Ferial Salhi, after having stuffed 10 fencing bags with donated material. . ‘Leon Paul will provide additional fencing bags, they are arriving tomorrow morning from London’, she announced, less than half an hour later.
While the FIE office welcomed the gift of the suppliers, the FIE staff at the Donate your Fencing Gear stand in Leipzig witnessed the extreme generosity of the athletes. ‘I cleaned up my room’, declared Lee Kiefer, bringing a bag full of equipment from the other side of the ocean. ‘Which project do you want to support with your donation?’ ‘All of them, there is a lot of material, you can split among them’. Another athlete to pack an extra fencing bag with used equipment for donation was Alexey Yakimenko. Together, with his teammate Dmitry Danilenkov, the two Russians targeted their donations to Brazil and Senegal. Minobe Kazuyasu proved to be faithful to his weapon and teamed-up with a country where epee is especially strong, in this case benefitting Kyrgyzstan. Many other fencers joined the action. A special section of the website will soon host the complete list of all the donors and of items donated, to give them the visibility and appreciation their generosity deserves.
Every donor, regardless of fencer or manufacturer, receives a certificate of solidarity recognising their contribution, jointly with a small bracelet attesting that a fencing gear was donated. If you want to know all of them, check the album “Donate my Fencing Gear” on the FIE Facebook page: Hall of Fame of donors, who, with their genuine heart, help make fencing a real family, with virtually no distinction between rich or poor, strong or weak, manufacturer or buyer. This is truly fencing without borders that go beyond personal interests for the sake of the sport. This positive reaction is a ray of hope and relief, extending beyond the fencing world. While the German fencers were giving also proof of their great heart, the Donate your Fencing Gear Program Manager of the FIE was literally moved to tears.
Solidarity is contagious: ‘It is possible to fix this mask, and if one of the manufacturers is willing to do it, we will be able to accept it’, said Huggins. The request of help was accepted quickly and the mask was fixed. Attempts to replace the wheel of a fencing bag abandoned next to the stand (an anonymous donation?) are underway; nothing must be wasted, everything is useful.
“I don’t know how I am going to bring back all this equipment to my country” was the comment made by nearly all the beneficiaries receiving the donation, each of them with a big smile. ‘The kids will be so happy when they unpack the bags’, says Arno Perillier, Vice President of Brazilian Fencing Federation. ‘This is something good and it is happening here and now’ commented Juan Miguel Paz, the Colombian coach entrusted with the task to collect the donations.
With a week left in the World Championships, more is expected, and the program has already gone beyond its goals.
In the FIE Statutes is written:
‘In order for the fencing world to progress as a whole, solidarity between the strong and the weak is an undeniable requisite, whether it be between continents, federations or athletes. This vision must become real. Our common singular motto: fencing together, universal fencing.”
This vision became real in Leipzig.