Well, that headline sure sounds like something impossible, doesn’t it?

On the contrary, it happened in reality, with me being the referee.

Let me explain.

When I was refereeing an epee poule match at a competition this season, I started out the match by checking the gear of the fencer to my right. There was nothing amiss, so I proceeded to the fencer on my left. Body cord connected at both ends – check. Tip screws present on both sides – check. Tip passes test with 1,5 mm feeler gauge – check. Tip checked with 0,5 mm feeler gauge – fail. Fencer gets yellow card, and gets his spare weapon. The first tests are done and passed. Second test with 0,5 mm feeler gauge – fail. Fencer gets red card, and his opponent gets a point before fencing starts.

The fencer on the left claims that both those weapons had previously passed all 0,5 feeler gauge tests in previous poules in that competition, and he did not accept the decision as it stood. I asked him if he wanted me to call the head referee, which he responded to, that yes, he demanded as much.

I found the head referee, and we started discussing the matter. During that time, we had a closer look at the feeler gauge – and it became obvious as to what the problem was.

The feeler gauge had a circular wear pattern with the same diameter as an epee tip. Some number of epee referees have conducted their 0,5 mm testing in this way:

  1. Insert 0,5 mm feeler gauge in slot between epee tip at the barrel.
  2. Depress the epee tip so that the feeler gauge is squeezed between the tip and the barrel.
  3. Spin the feeler gauge around, with tip depressed, to some other position.
  4. Check for compliance in the new position
  5. Rate the epee as passing the 0,5 mm test.

This procedure is flat-out wrong.

The feeler gauge is a measuring tool, manufactured to tight tolerances. (The requirement is 0,05 mm, according to material rule m.19.4, sections a-b.) When the feeler gauge is spun around while being pressed between the metal surfaces of the barrel and tip, it will experience wear. One such grinding movement will not do much, but over time and after lots of grinding spins material will wear off from the feeler gauge, and it will become thinner. If the fencer has mounted the contact spring so that the residual travel is, say, 0,47 mm, then that is within rules. If it is tested with a 0,5 mm feeler gauge that is in mint condition, then the weapon will pass the check. If, however, the feeler gauge has been worn down 0,04 mm it is then 0,46 mm thick, and that weapon will fail the test – despite being in accordance with rules.

It is worth noting that the material rule m.19 which concerns the epee tip and barrel does specify measurements and what shall be tested, but it does not explicitly state the exact procedure of the test. Put otherwise, the 5-step procedure described above is not explicitly mandated under that rule. (Technical rule t.68.3 explicitly mentions the checking of weapon tips, but that rule does not mention checking at two rotational positions either.) Now, if the referee lets go of the tip and rotates the feeler gauge when it is not in contact with the metal parts, then it will not be subject to this type of wear, which would alleviate the situation. Then again, with feeler gauges that have the usual U-shaped notch, more than half of the periphery of the tip will be in contact with the feeler gauge when the tip is depressed, and there is – in my estimation – no need for a second test in a different rotational position. As an added benefit, a single test will save a little bit of time. Not much for a single match, but it adds up over the course of a competition day.

So what happened after I and the head referee saw the circular wear pattern on the feeler gauge? We concluded that the feeler gauge might be the reason for the light going off during testing, a suspicion that was vindicated when the exact same weapon tips were tested with another feeler gauge that showed no signs of wear. The worn-out set of feeler gauges were then taken away by the head referee, and I rescinded the red card. The match then started with a score of 0-0, and nothing further of note happened.

I find it interesting that technical rule t.47, which enumerates the responsibilities of the referee explicitly states in part 2.d that the referee shall supervise the proper functioning of the electrical apparatus, but no specific mention of testing apparatus is made. Mention of consulting the experts whenever he feels it necessary is done in part 2.j, but that part also explicitly states that it concerns the electrical apparatus.

Rules t.93 – 95 deal with the annulment of hits in epee, but only with hits – those rules do con deal with points awarded due to red cards.

Finally, the procedural rules (rules t.171 – 178) mention appeals and that there are unjustified appeals, which to me indicate that the rule writes intended for the possibility that some appeals should be considered justified. However, the details of how the decision that an appeal is justified should be arrived at are not described – only which officers of the competition that take part in such a decision. I consider this lack of specific rules preventing me as a referee to arrive at the decision that the red card should be revoked as sufficient ground for me to arrive at just that decision. I maintain that my decision was just, and acts that are not specifically forbidden should be allowed, barring extraordinary circumstances.