President of the FIE, philanthropist and innovator. How the world of fencing changed during Usmanov’s time
Famous Russian businessman Alisher Usmanov has been re-elected president of the International Fencing Federation (FIE) for the third time. Usmanov, who has headed the organization since 2008 and was previously re-elected to this post in 2012 and 2016, won the election in Lausanne by acclamation. International fencing has again made an unambiguous choice in its favor.
Usmanov, who holds a master’s degree in sports fencing, began his sports career with the Uzbek national saber fencing team. He was president of the Russian Fencing Federation and the European Fencing Confederation. When he took the helm of the FIE, Usmanov succeeded in “resetting” the development of this sport, starting with in-depth reforms, a structural and financial reorganization, an optimization of the rules and a technological re-equipment of athletes and teams. competitions, with particular emphasis on promoting the popularity of fencing.
In an interview with TASS, Usmanov explained why fencing was so popular for him. First of all, he said, he liked the chivalrous spirit and respect for the adversary. The athletes who evolve under the aegis of the FIE now brilliantly embody the unchanging values of the Musketeers. And, given the elitism of this sport, in the good sense of the word, the evoked values become more attractive for the young generation, whose eyes are riveted on the television screens, where valiant warriors in white clothes soar, parent and retaliate.
The televised image of modern fencing may have really become one of Usmanov’s main achievements. He always dreamed of making this sport spectacular, dynamic and easy to understand. Meanwhile, it is precisely the ability to understand what is happening on and around the track quite easily for a very long time has remained a stumbling block on the way to increasing the popularity of the sport. How can a simple fan understand, for example, the nuances of a sword fencers duel? Two figures on the luminous path, both waiting for the right moment to attack… Fraction of a second and… victory? Is that all?
Today, the television system used to broadcast fencing events is in many ways the envy of other athletes. Special professional TV crews are assigned to do the job, the fights are shown from different angles and with slow motion replays. To help viewers, there are a variety of special effects, which broadcast directors keep experimenting with, and giant LED platforms on the ground, where you can see athlete names, points scored, and even entertainment and information videos. These innovations have made today’s international fencing competitions sophisticated spectacles both for the spectators seated around them and for those who watch the competitions on television or on the Internet.
To assess the quality of the presentation of the content, just watch the promotional video of the World Fencing Championship Budapest 2019 under the slogan “A Kindof Magic”, which has become a winner of many prestigious advertising competitions. As for the Olympic Games, the fencing events have managed to take leading positions in terms of sight statistics in many countries around the world.
Ilgar Mamedov, the head coach of the Russian dream national fencing team (his trainees won 3 gold, 4 silver and 1 bronze in Tokyo), likes to recall how, after the decisive fights, he spent an entire night receiving congratulatory messages with expert advice from the people. who recently had no idea what his own sport and sport in general were.
“Previously, only specialists were able to determine, for example, a ‘touch for the right’ or a ‘double touch’, but after our successful performances, first in Rio in 2016, then in Tokyo, people started sending me messages that made me feel amazed over and over again. And it was especially flattering for me to hear that some fans have set their alarm clock for 4 a.m. to get up and watch the Olympic fights Mamedov said.
Broadcasts have also benefited greatly from a number of innovations introduced in the rules to encourage maximum activity for rivals, as well as changes in sports equipment – now shooters no longer have a long wire connecting them to an electronic system. Today’s modern wireless technologies allow the referee to identify a valid hit and its accuracy. Very soon, we will be entitled to another know-how in this sport: a VR simulator for fencers. The first was developed by Russian specialists.
But the most important victory came in world fencing under Usmanov on the eve of the Tokyo Games. Now we can only guess how much effort it took Usmanov to achieve success, but now it’s a done deal – at a time when many Olympic sports are struggling not only to increase their representation, but just to retain one place on the Olympic list, the number of fencing medal series contested at the Games has increased. This means that athletes’ chances of winning an Olympic medal have also increased: there are now 12 sets of awards: six individual and another six in team events, with each national team consisting of three or four athletes. Prior to the Tokyo Olympics, fencers contested only ten award rounds, and in each Olympic cycle they had to alternately sacrifice two medals per team in three different disciplines.
The four-time Olympic fencing champion, President of the Olympic Committee Stanislav Pozdnyakov, sees the key to success in Usmanov’s approach. “Alisher Burkhanovich’s systems approach to the development of fencing produced a situation where this sport at the Games of the 23rd Olympiad 2020 in Tokyo was for the first time represented in the competition program as widely as possible, with athletes with a chance to reach their Olympic Dream and compete for medals in all disciplines in individual and team competitions, ”Pozdnyakov told TASS. “This is the very important achievement of the international federation.
Pozdnyakov also noted the important and crucial changes aimed at popularizing fencing, arousing interest in it at country and regional level and involving as many enthusiasts as possible at the level of children and young people. “In fact, the international federation has created in recent years new opportunities and conditions, where in a competitive sporting environment, the mass user watches fencing much more often and makes a choice in its favor. The president of the federation personally plays an important role in this too, ”Pozdnyakov stressed.
For Mamedov, the head coach of the Russian team and candidate for the presidency of the National Fencing Federation, it is extremely important that henceforth the chances of athletes in a particular discipline of winning a team medal do not depend. not what the team tournament will look like. during a particular Olympic cycle.
“It’s a historic development. It changed everyone in fencing. Not a single athlete became a ‘second tier’ athlete in a four-year period. Previously, people who depended on the fencing system rotation knew full well that they were becoming temporary outcasts because their weapon in the team tournament was taken off the Olympic program, ”Mammadov told TASS.
“Between ourselves, we call Alisher Burkhanovich a wizard. He is able to change our sport, and sometimes even someone’s life, in a radical way. We have witnessed this time and time again over the years. You cannot. keep you from wondering how some important and very remarkable things come through his decisions. World fencing has been fortunate enough to take control of our federation. Many have started to treat fencing, largely an aristocratic sport reserved for privileged few, in a different way. Although we all know very well how difficult it was to get there, “said Mammadov.
Indeed, in a sense, Usmanov is a wizard. Anyone can guess what it cost them to put together the unique collection of edged weapons that anyone can see on display in the Russian Sports Ministry building. Ancient weapons, rare books on fencing techniques and other unique exhibits were donated to the museum by the Usmanov Charitable Foundation “For the Future of Fencing”. According to experts from the Russian Ministry of Culture, the collection is unique and one of a kind in Russia and abroad. The collection can be viewed in the new museum hall on Kazakov Street. The hall was designed by the main stage artist of the Bolshoi Theater, Alexander Kurguzenkov.
A little more on the magic: among the ambassadors of world fencing, there is a veritable constellation of world stars: Uma Thurman, Milla Jovovich, Alain Delon and Pierce Brosnan. All these actors, who learned the art of fencing for their roles in the cinema, are now an integral part of a large sporting family. Thurman with a samurai sword in hand played Beatrix in Kill Bill, Jovovich, Mylady de Winter in The Three Musketeers, Brosnanas James Bond in Die Another Day and Delon in Zorro.
Today, the FIE brings together 155 associated federations from all continents – its geographical coverage is truly impressive. At the same time, fencing remains one of the cleanest sports, in which there are no doping scandals. Usmanov-led fencing is successfully addressing this threat to the sport, as well as the situation caused by the protracted COVID-19 crisis.
The FIE has developed and is implementing a global plan to help fencers around the world. Usmanov also provided financial assistance to the athletes in the amount of 1 million Swiss francs. And, to complete the financial theme, we can say that under Usmanov’s leadership, the FIE has grown into a financially well-managed organization. According to media estimates, he donated over $ 80 million to meet the needs of the federation.
Also, at the cost of considerable effort, a whole series of offline competitions have taken place during the 2020/2021 season. With all necessary precautions taken and some restrictions imposed, qualifying tournaments were held in Doha, Budapest and Kazan. Also, there were world championships for juniors and cadets. As the Tokyo Olympics showed, the fencing family has overcome its challenges to become even stronger.
And finally, a few words on the universalization of shooters’ abilities. In an interview with TASS after the Tokyo Olympics, Usmanov said that the FIE has had success in this regard: “Many athletes and teams have won for the first time. In Tokyo, representatives from three continents took the podium. There were representatives from some countries that participated in Olympic fencing for the first time. “
Asked by TASS why he devotes so much energy, attention and resources to fencing, Usmanov responded with words that explain a lot: “It’s my love and my passion. It’s the spirit. chivalry and respect for the adversary, which have come down to us since the days when your life depended on the skill with which you wield a sword. This is what makes fencing so wonderful – the excitement and the clash of characters and spirits. Even though a lot of time has passed and equipment and conditions have changed, its essence remains the same. As far as my personal investment is concerned, fencing deserves such attention. Yes, I am a patron, and I will support fencing for as long as I live.