Referees – the lifeblood of competitions

This page is not just for Sabre Referees but for everyone interested in the art and science of refereeing to the high standards all our fencers and coaches deserve at every level. Or even just for those who want to understand what on earth is going on with all those hand signals.

Everyone should be a referee – after all we are always judging who got the hit aren’t we?!

Here we will have details of the referees active in the UK and also internationally. How are they rated? What is the latest thinking? What are the challenges? How to become a referee? How to get the best referees for your competition? As a referee, how to get more practice outside of the highly charged pressured atmosphere of competition.

What does a referee look like?

Who got that hit? The ref is that smart person in the suit concentrating hard 🙂

Well one place to start to understand about refereeing is to look at a short biog of one of our leading referees:

Name: Jennifer Sancroft

Jen Sancroft refs Sabre at the School Games: FENCE
(image courtesy of British Fencing)

Referee Qualifications: FIE B (Sabre), Level 2 (Foil & Epee)

Fencing background: started fencing in 2005 at Strathclyde University, fenced for Scotland and Great Britain at a number of 5 Nations, Commonwealth and World Cup/Grand Prix events for over a decade. Now coaching and refereeing as well as supporting and delivering referee education and development opportunities.

Favourite Events to referee: Ghent Satellite (great city, great organizing team, good venue), National Championships (always has a sense of occasion and it’s a chance to give back to the British Fencing community), Scottish Open (Scottish Fencing are investing in making this their flagship event and it’s great to see the steps forward they are making)

Away from fencing: mum to an almost 3 year old, HR professional with a background in manufacturing, oil & gas and construction, tea addict and prosecco connoisseur.

Check out the clear hand signals in the background. Hit to the right.

Getting into refereeing

How do I start?

The simple answer is sign up for a refereeing introductory course (Level 1) at a competition you are going to attend or, if you are already a bit experienced, and can referee a bit in the club or beyond, sign straight up for a Level 2 course at a competition you would like to referee at.

England Fencing have started to organise online Level 2 courses at £10 per person. These will be on Eventbrite to make signing up easy. Each course is limited to about 12 people to allow sufficient participation.

But where do I find a competition?
  1. Organisers often advertise that they have a mentor coming in order to attract new referees.
  2. Ask a competition organiser if you can ref and get a qualification. For instance you might be doing a BRC on the Saturday and there is an LPJS on the Sunday with a referee course.
Does it cost much?

No. It’s really inexpensive. England Fencing organise courses at Level 1 and Level 2 for £10 for the theory.

Where do I find the resources I need to understand?

Just go to the useful resources from BF at the bottom of this page and which are linked to here.

How much does a referee earn?

At many competitions a Level 2 referee will get between£40 and £75 per day plus expenses. The exact amount depends on the organiser.

The England Youth Championships is paying £85 per day plus expenses in 2023 for example. The Public Schools Championships paid something similar.

Look at The Welsh Open site and go to the very clear section on referees (a bit of a rarity) to get you some idea.

Not all organisers differentiate by qualification and expense policies vary too.

So what are all these levels you are talking about?


There are 4 levels of refereeing. They are

  • Level 1 (Club refereeing);
  • Level 2  (Local Competition);
  • Level 3 (National Competition, Pathway level and International EFC competitions). Information on the Level 3 process can be found here.
  • Level 4 & FIE  (National Competition and FIE Satellite, Junior World Cup and Grand Prix competitions). Information on the Level 4 exam process can be found here

Wheelchair sabre refereeing

Domestic wheelchair refereeing has recently been added to the Level 1 and Level 2 referee courses and we will update you when we get more information.

Refereeing basics

There are two components to refereeing:

  1. knowing what you are doing (Theory) and
  2. being able to do it (Practical).


The new online delivery for the level 1 and 2 theory exams for refereeing format allows referee instructors to deliver online (and in person) seminars with online, self-marking tests to give aspiring referees instant feedback.

This online model allows a more flexible approach to the delivery of referee education, a more informative and enhanced learner experience through more visual representations and instant feedback.

Unfortunately, unlike for a driving test, there is currently no practice version available. This has been suggested by The Sabre Club so we’ll see.

However you can find useful resources and pre course reading (including some sample questions) via the Referee Zone on the British Fencing site. There are a number of very useful links on this page so it is well worth a visit. A quick way to see what you need is to go to the Need to Know Section at bottom of this page.


For the practical you need a referee mentor. These are listed in the second table if you follow the link.

The practical assessments are a key component of referee education and take place in person at the ‘relevant level of event’.

What is the relevant level of event?

This is a good question and one that has been a problem for a long time. However it is based on common sense and the willingness of the competition or event organisers to have trainee refereees. We all need more and continually improving referees so The Sabre Club has been looking at ways to allow this to happen without jeopardizing the fencers’ chances of getting good decisions on the piste.

How do you get on a course?

At the moment it’s a bit convoluted to be frank. You have to fill in a form which you will find on this page of the BF website which goes to the Home Country rep. Click on the big red Expression of Interest button and fill in the form. You can probably go straight there by clicking form here.

From the dropdown box you choose Referee L1-L2 and submit with the rest of your details.

AND/OR check out The Sabre Club referee courses page

What happens next?

Basically the Home Country rep lets everyone on the list know when there is a referee course coming up that is 1) in their region and 2) in their respective weapon. For GDPR reasons, unfortunately they apparently can’t share this list with the course organisers directly.

This can be quite a barrier and seem like you can’t get anywhere and there

Does it make any difference where you get qualified?

All the resources are standardised among the home nations which is clearly a good thing.

What is the cost of a qualification?

There is no fixed cost. British Fencing are apparently looking to introduce a default cost, but found that some clubs, regions and / or instructors want to subsidise courses. It is down to the course organiser to liaise with the referee instructor (and other costs like the venue) to determine the cost. But see above for what courses organised in conjunction with The Sabre Club should cost.

How does it get organised?

An individual, club, county or region can approach a referee instructor directly and ask them to run a course. Alternatively, they can approach the head of refereeing for their respective home nation; the head of refereeing can then ask the full list of instructors and mentors if anyone wants to run the course. Instructors and mentors are also free to organise their own courses.

What are the minimum numbers?

There are no prescribed minimum numbers for a course. Nonetheless, an organiser may want to set a minimum number of people based on overhead costs (instructor, room hire etc). British Fencing recommend no more than 15 people on one course, so everyone has a chance to ask questions and interact with the instructor.

Can you just reach out to a ref you know to run the course?

As mentioned above, you can approach any referee instructor to run a theory course and any referee mentor to run a practical assessment. Please note, not all referees are instructors / mentors.

Is there a link to the online theory so you can practice – like if you were doing a driving test? Could you register for this perhaps to start the process (if you want to get people in and take some payment straight away perhaps)?

There is no practice theory test currently available online, although practice questions are included throughout the theory presentations. 

The country reps have waiting lists of people that want to do a referee course, with their preferred level, weapon and region.

Does British Fencing or the Home Country make money from the referee courses?

British Fencing and England Fencing make no money from running referee courses. Any payment goes directly to the instructor running the course or to the course organiser, who often subsidises the cost. Presumably the same applies for the other Home Countries.

If Level 1 is no longer recognised as a qualification what is it and why would you do it?

Level 1 is a general introduction to refereeing. This is particularly aimed at new fencers and parents. It is more athlete focused than level 2 and aims to introduce basic concepts, such as competition structure, how to check a poule sheet, basic penalties, appealing decisions etc.

What competitions can be used for the practical? What are the restrictions? It says relevant level somewhere but more specific for Level 1 and 2 would be helpful.

There is no assessment for Level 1. Level 2 practical assessments can be effectively held at any small competition. Examples in the documentation include county / regional events, Leon Paul Junior Series etc. They can also be carried out at larger events, but it is recommended that candidates’ first experience of refereeing is at these smaller competitions.

How does the practical work?

What is required of the referee mentor at a competition/assessment?

Please ensure you speak to the competition organisers to make sure they can allow the referee mentor to observe the candidates, rather than being drawn in to referee themselves. Often competition organisers are happy to host these assessments though as it means they get a guaranteed number of referees.

Are the candidates supervised and does the assessor or mentor act as a sort of video referee so the fencers are not disadvantaged? This seems to have always been one of the big problems.

Referees that are being assessed by a mentor will be observed throughout the day. The mentor provides regular feedback to improve the candidate’s refereeing. 

Mentors are not allowed to overturn the decision of a referee on the piste. This is specifically set out in the FIE technical rules.

The only exceptions are 1) if a video system is set up for the piste and the mentor is acting as the video ref or 2) if a fencer formally appeals an interpretation of the rules, such as giving the incorrect colour card for an offence, and the mentor is acting as head referee.

Please note a fencer cannot appeal a point of fact, such as the phrasing of an action, to the head referee / DT (Directoire Technique or basically the people in charge of making sure all the rules are followed correctly).

As with any referee, they cannot be changed part way through a fight. Once the fight is finished, the mentor will provide feedback to the candidate. They will also decide if the candidate referees later rounds of the competition.

But what if a trainee costs a fencer the fight by phrasing it wrongly?

Under the rules the mentor would not be able to overturn the decision unless there is a video system set up and they are acting as video referee.

The Sabre Club is carrying out ongoing research as this is a major point which goes to the heart of having a great experience at competitions. Meanwhile we suggest that budding referees of all ages and stages get as much practice as possible in their clubs under the watchful eye of a coach before committing to taking the Level 2 practical.

In practice the instructor or mentor will take great care not to put a trainee referee in a situation which they cannot cope with and are there to provide them with support during the assessment phase of any course.


The support structure for new and aspiring referees has been recently enhanced by British Fencing, working with the Home Countries to create a more supportive model based on mentoring, support and ongoing feedback and development opportunities.

Previously candidates may have experienced the pass/fail model, whereas the new model focuses on education and ongoing support to ensure candidates are engaged by the wider refereeing community, experience constructive feedback to support their development and are encouraged to continue their refereeing journey to meet their own goals, be that to support their club by refereeing bouts safely during club sessions, or to referee at county events or to become a National level or International level referee.


There are many pathways within refereeing, and the Referee Instructors are here to support your chosen route and to guide you on your next steps when you are ready.

Beyond Level 2

The Home Countries are responsible for Levels 1 and 2.

After that you are looking at the international scene and British Fencing takes over responsibility.

Upcoming level 3 examsUpcoming courses


The Home Countries currently support the development, examination and registration of Levels 1&2.

The representative for England is Luke Deamer

The representative for Scotland is Jennifer Sancroft 

The representative for Wales is Lynne Melia

The representative for Northern Ireland is Mike Westgate

The representative for Guernsey is Meyrick Simmonds

The representative for Jersey is Alistair Christie

The representative for Wheelchair Refereeing is Chris Farren

For general contact information please click here.

Governing body

British Fencing is responsible for the Refereeing Syllabus in the UK. The responsibility for running referee courses in the UK is shared between BF and the Home Country Associations.

Refereeing is overseen by the British Fencing Referee Manager, Nickie Bailey, with additional working groups being set up as required.

The British Fencing Referee Manager is also responsible for the administrative aspect of the Referee Pathway Process.


British Fencing is also responsible for maintaining the register of active Referees and their qualifications. You can find the latest referee register and the British Fencing guide to how to become a registered referee here.


There are also some helpful tools and resources for referees:

Level 1 & 2 pre-course reading

FIE rules app

FIE T-170 sanctions – cheat sheet      (updated 23.09.2019)

FIE competition rules

Hand signals


You can also watch as many international refereeing video clips as possibleFIE youtube channel

Or participate, review or upload contentious matches on the following sites:




There are several formal ways to register your interest in becoming a Level 2 Regional Level Referee or to sign up to an Introduction to Refereeing seminar to learn more about refereeing:


According to British Fencing, and they should know, all referees should demonstrate they:

  • Have read the BF Referee Course Preliminary Reading
  • Have read the BF Referee Rule book sections ‘T’ (technical rules), ‘M’ (material rules) and ‘O’ (organisation rules)
  • Have read the current BF Guidelines on Safety in Fencing, for fencers, coaches, referees, clubs and competition organisers.
  • Have an understanding of the technical rules of fencing.
  • Can perform clear, clean and consistent Hand Signals.
  • Are able to explain simple phrasing in English.
  • Have an awareness of the penalty sheet of the FIE rule book (t.170) . This linke takes you to a page to download the BF FIE rules app which is a useful app for sure.
  • Are able to be consistently punctual and dress respectably.
  • Are able to consistently uphold the values of British Fencing and be  positive ambassadors for the sport.