Fencing is a niche but fundamental sport in the Olympics, contested at every Summer Games since 1896. Yet despite its genteel reputation and simple objective — touch an opponent with your blade before being touched — the sport has long been rife with drama and suspicion.

Two months before the Paris Olympics, international saber fencing is engulfed by questions about the integrity of refereeing, accusations of preferential treatment and concerns among top athletes and coaches that their sport’s tangled connections may be helping decide who gets to compete at the Games.

The federation that governs fencing in the United States, USA Fencing, recently suspended two international referees after they acknowledged communicating with each other during an Olympic qualifying tournament in California. It grew so concerned about two other referees that it asked the sport’s global governing body to ensure that those two judges were no longer assigned to any matches involving Americans.

And just last week, more than a half-dozen elite fencers demanded harsher punishments and urgent action to protect a sport that they say is “vulnerable to unfair refereeing and match-fixing.”

“Part of me feels so foolish for thinking all this time” that the sport was built on honor, integrity and dedication, said Andrew Mackiewicz, 28, an American saber fencer who competed at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

“It wasn’t,” he added. “It was like a mirage.” He said he stepped away from the sport in February because of his concerns about unscrupulous refereeing.

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