USA national team members slam USA Fencing referee suspensions. GETTY IMAGES

Members of the USA national fencing team have issued a statement via international athletes advocacy group Global Athlete expressing their dismay at the recent decision by their national governing body, USA Fencing, to impose  "weak and futile" suspensions on two referees.

USA Fencing launched an investigation into referees Jacobo Morales and Brandon Romo after a Division I Women's Sabre bout at the January 2024 North American Cup (NAC) - an Olympic qualifying event - in San Jose, California. In that contest, refereed by Romo and observed by Morales, Tatiana Nazlymov defeated Kira Erikson, 15-14. Accoring to USA Fencing, video evidence appeared to show Morales giving a signal to Romo after several touches, giving the appearance that Morales was influencing the calls.

Last week, USA Fencing found both men had violated the USA Fencing Referee Code of Ethics, International Fencing Federation (FIE) Technical Rules, and the FIE Ethical Code. They were handed nine-month suspensions, punishments deemed insufficient by national team members who - given the event was an Olympic qualifier - have also urged USA Fencing to immediately redistribute competition points "to ensure justice prevails". 

The statement read, "USA Fencing athletes are aggrieved by the recent decision by USA Fencing to enact a weak and futile suspension on two American fencing referees.

"Yesterday’s decision by USA Fencing to sanction Mr. Jacobo Morales and Mr. Brandon Romo for only nine months after being found guilty of violating the USA Fencing Referee Code of Ethics, the FIE Technical Rules and the FIE Ethical Code undermines the ethics of the sport and every athlete who strives for success on the grounds of fair play.

"Fencers, like all athletes, are required and expected to uphold the highest standards of integrity when competing. When athletes fail to do so, swift sanctions and consequences are enacted. This decision, however, highlights the discrepancy in accountability standards between athletes and officials, with the latter often receiving minimal repercussions for breaking the rules of sport, as evidenced in this case. 

"This decision provides zero deterrence for match manipulation and leaves athletes, who dedicate their lives to the sport, vulnerable to unfair refereeing and match-fixing.

"These officials, who are not competing for medals, are expected to uphold the rules of the sport with integrity. Yet, they have undermined the very fibre of sport – a level playing field – and are facing inconsequential repercussions. If USA Fencing is committed to protecting the rules and integrity of their sport, these officials must receive multi-year suspensions.

"Furthermore, based on this decision and with a pending second investigation yet to be complete, USA fencing has set a precedent that leniency is afforded to officials who break the rules. How can athletes have confidence that the sport will abide by its own rules that were established to protect athletes and fair play when decisions, as per this case, indirectly endorse match manipulation?

"Importantly, the investigation and USA Fencing has failed to recognise this event was an Olympic qualifier. USA Fencing has yet to redistribute competition points to ensure justice prevails. If USA Fencing cares about fair sport this must be immediately implemented.

"As athletes head into the Paris Olympic Games, USA Fencing and the International Fencing Federation have a responsibility to clean up the sport and enact tough sanctions on match manipulation to not only avoid a cloud of suspicion overshadowing the performances in Paris but to ensure that all fencers in Paris have fairly earned their position and will compete on a level piste."

A second investigation, which USA Fencing calls "a related but separate matter", concerns allegations of match manipulation also in the sabre weapon.