Georgina Usher’s message for 2021 includes a look back at 2020, and looks to the year ahead for a safe, welcoming and fun return to fencing for participants in our sport.
As we enter a New Year, I felt it was important to take a moment to reflect on one of the more challenging years in the history of fencing in the UK and look for the positives as we come together to rebuild our future.
Many of us have been forced to adopt new ways to work, new ways to keep in touch with our friends and family and new ways to keep fit and keep involved with the sports that we love.
At BF we too have adapted – to find different ways to continue to support our members, our clubs, our coaches and our partners whilst also advocating and lobbying to Government and funding bodies on behalf of our sport. I’m so grateful for all the efforts of the BF team who, from the moment the first lockdown arrived, responded so creatively to the changing needs of our community.
The variations in restrictions across the country in 2020 created a unique and ever-changing environment to navigate as we continually updated our advice and guidance to members, clubs and activity providers across the UK. The Home Nation Return to Fencing working group came together to ensure that where possible we supported each other and aligned in the guidance provided.
Where clubs and activity providers were able to re-start, we are very grateful to all the coaches and volunteer Covid Officers who road-tested the guidance and provided feedback and suggestions.
As a result of these activities, we now have a wealth of tested resources, including sets of marketing assets available to support clubs and activity providers across the country as they start to re-open and provide opportunities for people to reengage with fencing.
Our clubs have told us that future facility access is a significant concern, both availability and cost. We will continue to work with stakeholders across sport to raise this to the attention of Government. If you are concerned about local facility availability and have the time to write to your MP, please do so. Your feedback does make a difference and strengthens our case.
Throughout this time, we have worked closely with our Home Nation Associations and the closer collaborative relationships that have formed will make our sport stronger. One example is the ongoing discussions around aligning performance pathways between BF and Scottish Fencing. Another is the work being done between England Fencing & BF to create a continuous pathway for referee development, from club refereeing to international refereeing.
We have also used this opportunity to create and publish the development framework for future Olympic fencers, based on a significant amount of research and data. The resulting Fencer Pathway will form the foundation of all the work that BF do within the Athlete Development Programme (ADP) which is now responsible for alignment and delivery of all funded programme activity to athletes on a journey to the Olympics.
The primary objective of the ADP is to produce athletes that are resilient, independent and high performing with a true sense of self value that in turn inspires others to achieve success. To do this we will continually be working on the whole person approach and will continue to develop and challenge ourselves and those we work with to be better – a better NGB, better coaches, better athletes, thus collectively better people.
Our values of honesty, respect and excellence form the foundations of this, as they do for all our work.
At the time of writing, we await the outcome of our bid for UK Sport funding from April 2021 (January 2021 update please note this has now been announced). Whilst we are not eligible for World Class Programme funding at this time, we have applied for ‘Progression’ investment which will be largely focussed on creating the system and structure for Olympic success in 2032. A significant part of our funding bid is a programme to support the development of a 2032 cohort of fencing coaches who by 2028 will be able to train and support a cohort of Olympic level fencers in the UK.
Feedback from BF’s application was extremely positive. However, the ability of UK Sport to invest in more sports will be directly linked to the outcome of the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review which determines the total amount of money that UK Sport receive.
Thanks to support from the National Lottery, we have been able to provide more online learning to our community, particularly in the areas of safeguarding, coaching and athlete development. We see the future of all our people development work (volunteers, officials, coaches and athletes) as a modular, blended learning structure, combining online training, webinars, virtual classrooms and face-to-face opportunities.
We have significantly increased our communication activities, using many different channels (e.g. email, website, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc.) to reach and engage with many different audiences (e.g. current/potential members/clubs/fencers/activity partners). We have created and shared a huge amount of content, from #ITriedFencing and #FitToFence through to our new online Strength and Conditioning sessions for competitive members. Our online community discussion and consultation events, on a variety of topics have proved to be extremely popular and based on your feedback we’d like to keep these going. They are certainly a more efficient and cost-effective way to come together as a community to share ideas, views and challenges. It’s been fantastic to put faces to names and also have the opportunity to explore a topic in more detail – rather than trying to fit in a conversation in between rounds at a fencing competition!
Talking of competitions, at the time of writing we are not envisaging a fast return to ‘normal’ competition as we are bound by restrictions on numbers particularly for those age 18 and over. We will inevitably need to start small and local, and we will be encouraging organisers to adopt different formats which comply with local restrictions on indoor sport participation.
One of our top priorities this year will be to support our clubs and coaches to restart and rebuild their clubs. As part of the work to encourage people back to club fencing, we have created a new GB League – this is a fun opportunity for club fencers to earn points for competitive sparring at club nights. We hope that – as restrictions lift – clubs will take the opportunity to reach out to other local clubs to host joint league nights, to ensure that we use any spare capacity in the system to provide opportunities for welcoming people back to fencing. There will be points available for every fight you fence, a few more if you win and some fun opportunities to earn ‘booster’ points.
Like many National Governing Bodies we remain dependent on our membership income. We are extremely grateful to all those members who have stayed with us during these times and in doing so have helped to ensure that fencing is well placed to recover quickly as restrictions ease.
Serving the membership remains the foundation of what we are and what we do, not just as British Fencing but all the other Home Nation associations as well. Our individual membership model underpins all of our activities and it is vital that as our sport re-opens, we continue to embed the BF/Home Nation membership requirements to remain sustainable over the coming years, so we can continue the work that we do.
In closing, the events of 2020 gave many of us working and participating in sport the opportunity to reflect more deeply on the part that sport plays in our lives and what we want out of that experience in the future for ourselves and others. Above all else we want people, when they participate in fencing to be safe, feel welcomed and have fun.
‘Safe’ is not just about making sure we are wearing the right equipment and following the hygiene protocols. It is about safeguarding the welfare of all our participants, embedding good safeguarding principles and practice into every aspect of our sporting offer. It’s also about making sure our fencers, our volunteers and our coaches are covered by insurance, and that means in our community clubs everyone should be a member.
‘Welcomed’ means being inclusive, helping people overcome the perceptions that they might have of our sport, so that everyone in fencing feels they can truly ‘belong’, irrespective of ability, age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity and religion.
Finally ‘fun’ – a small word that really matters. 2020 for many people has not been fun. So we must work extra hard in 2021 to find as much fun and joy as we possibly can as we return to participating in fencing.
Please note, this article was published for The Sword January 2021 edition and has been updated to include new information about UK Sport funding.
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