Patrick Collings, chairman of Fencing Western Cape, says the national lockdown is affecting the sport adversely but they are trying their best to use technology to keep going.
Fencing Western Cape is a member of the Western Cape Provincial Sport Confederation. Collings is the national team manager, on the management team of South Africa’s Commonwealth Fencing Federation, and the founder of Blues Fencing Club, one of the leading fencing clubs in the country.
He is also head coach at University of Cape Town and at Reddam House School in Durbanville.
A number of prestigious fencing tournaments had to be cancelled because of the lockdown, including the senior national championships which were scheduled to have been held in Port Elizabeth on 11 and 12 July.
The African Championships, which were due to take place in April in Egypt, also did not take place and that was a setback for fencers who were looking to qualify for the Olympic Games. The International Fencing Federation postponed the tournament and will announce a new date in due course.
The Junior World Championships in the United States of America have also been postponed. The Yanpolo twins from Khayelitsha, Phakama and Phumza, were going to take part and according to Collings Fencing WC had great hopes for them. Now it is uncertain whether the tournament would still take place and when if it does take place.
Locally all provincial and club competitions for the year have been cancelled. Once the lockdown is over ad hoc competitions will be scheduled if possible.
Collings said women’s fencing in the Western Cape was strong, with the Yanpolo twins doing exceptionally well. They were in great form at the African junior tournament in February in Ghana, with Phumza ranked 5th and Phakama 9th in Africa.
He explained that was a great feat, given the strength of fencing in particularly North Africa – a legacy of colonialism. Egypt and Tunisia have excellent fencers, so for the twins to achieve those rankings was very impressive. They are the core of the SA under 20 team, that are currently ranked second in Africa.
Online coaching is the way to go during lockdown, said Collings. Fencing has a number of technical actions – footwork, how you lunge, how you manage the sword, avoid opponents, how you parry, how you hit, bladework – and it is possible to teach all those components of fencing on video.
So, coaches are using a remote online coaching platform to stay in touch with the fencers and share specific training programs with them. Fencers can film themselves and send the footage back to the coach who can critique them and give feedback.
Collings said even though they miss the one-on-one lessons they certainly stay productive during lockdown.
The fencing community is already feeling the financial repercussions of lockdown and Collings does not expect many sponsorships coming their way once things return to normal. Everybody will tighten the belt and focus on their own business, he says. So tough times are ahead, and Collings hopes new sponsors will come forward to help the sport getting back on its feet again.
Discussions are already underway between administrators about how to deal with these trying circumstances and admin was going forward thanks to online communications such as Zoom, WhatsApp and Microsoft Teams.