One of the first sports to be included in the Paralympic programme, Wheelchair Fencing made its debut in the Stoke Mandeville Games in England, in 1953, a competition specially for war veterans. The first countries to develop the sport were precisely those with a tradition in world fencing: England, France and Italy.
When it was introduced in the 1960 Paralympic Games in Rome, the programme proposed included only sabre events, based on the regulations of the International Fencing Federation (FIE, in French). Only four years later, in Tokyo, two more weapons were introduced: foil and epée.
Only people with locomotor disabilities may compete in Wheelchair Fencing; the most common are amputations, paraplegia, congenital malformations and strokes. Categories are divided according to each athlete’s balance in the wheelchair, and the condition of the arm which will wield the weapon.
The difference compared to Olympic fencing is that the athletes’ chairs are anchored to the ground by fixing devices, which limit the game space and allow athletes to fence without moving the chair. If one of the fencers moves his chair, the combat is stopped.
The equipment required for the sport includes a mask, jacket and protective gloves. In a foil match, there is a protective shield for the chair’s wheels. In epée disputes, a metal apron is used to protect the competitor’s legs and the wheels of the chair.
The competition area is 4 metres long by 1.5 m wide. Using special sensors, the fencers are connected to an electronic counting system, which indicates whether a touch is valid and, based on this, the referee decides whether or not it earns a point, and for which athlete in the case of a double touch.
Each of the weapons used has its own scoring area: the foil is limited to the trunk, not including the arms and head, while in epée touches are valid from the waist up, including the arms and mask. With the sabre, touches are allowed with any part of the blade (tip and edges) and the valid target is the entire surface area from the waistline up, including arms and mask.