Fencing is not a very televisual sport, for several reasons.
Firstly, the fencers wear masks which not only makes it difficult to know who’s who, but completely disconnects the viewer from the competitors. This is one reason why, for every hit claimed, the fencers rip their masks off for a burst of emotional shouting. Just as quickly, everyone calms down, covers up and carries on. It all looks like the demented behaviour of a bunch of crazy people.
Secondly, the weapons are so light and thin, moving so fast, they all but disappear on camera. At twenty-five or thirty frames per second, it’s almost impossible to keep the weapons in focus. In order to keep both fencers in shot, the frame has to stay wide which worsens the problem. With two right-handers fencing, there’s frequently an arm obscuring the target on one side or other.
Even in a well-lit venue with a darkened background, the camera struggles to keep the blades in focus, even in high definition.
Thirdly, the technical rules are not easily picked up by a mainstream audience, and they are subtly different for the three weapons. Everything happens so fast, some random lights come up on the scoreboard, some random points get awarded and on it goes. It takes a lot of commentary to explain the thing that you didn’t actually spot just happened.
And the referee has his back to the camera, frequently doesn’t speak the viewer’s language and the viewer doesn’t follow the referee’s hand signals.
Lastly, it just doesn’t look like the ‘real’ sword fighting that viewers are used to from Zorro and The Three Musketeers!
Fencing occasionally makes it onto the specialist sports channels for events such as the World Championships and Olympics, but you’ll only see it if you subscribe to the right channels and can find it in the middle of the night in the schedules.
Image credit: Eurosport, 2015.