Lawrence M. Gough
(C) Bildrechte: Christine Gough
(C) Bildrechte: Christine Gough
Maître d'Armes Lawrence Matthew Gough was born in June 1949 in Dublin, Ireland. In April 1964 at the age of 14, he took up fencing. A friend of his father had invited him to come and watch an international fencing tournament in Dublin. Five days later, Lawrence completed his first training session in fencing.
In the next three years, Lawrence Gough gave proof of his talent at several tournaments on national level. But at that time, the Irish Fencing Federation was in a dominant position based on internal structures of its own making. The leadership was made up of the president, the general secretary and the treasurer – all members of the same Dublin fencing club. The former objectivity and impartiality of the federation had been lost.
When the then president of the Irish Federation high-handedly changed the rules for taking part in a competition, he acted against the articles of association and overstepped his competencies and powers. As a result of these rule changes, Lawrence was unable to defend a title he had won a year before. The press became aware of this and allowed Lawrence to report about these events. Thus the bad state of affairs in the Irish Fencing Federation was made public.
On 28 February 1967, the 17-year-old Lawrence Gough received a letter from the general secretary of the federation – the same woman who holds this position to the present day. In the letter, he was informed that his international fencing licence was being withdrawn and that he was banned worldwide for six months. This step was described as a ‘disciplinary measure’ – but without mentioning what the young Gough was actually charged with. A further breach of the constitution.
After the end of his six-month ban, Lawrence Gough continued to fence with success on national and international pistes. He fulfilled all the selection criteria stipulated by the Irish Fencing Federation for nomination for the Olympic Games in 1968 in Mexico. His successes were ignored by the federation – Lawrence Gough was not nominated. Instead, those responsible for selection nominated each other and family members in addition. Performance didn’t count.
In a radio interview, the president of the Irish federation insisted that the selection made was final and no one could do anything about it. In an open letter, Lawrence Gough thereupon called the selection into question. This did not remain without consequences: in August 1968, Lawrence Gough was debarred from the Irish Fencing Federation at the age of 19 and his international fencing licence was withdrawn. He was banned worldwide and for life.
The Irish fencers’ results at the Olympic Games were commented on in the press as follows: “After Ireland’s pathetic display in the Olympic Games, it seems Gough may have had a point when he issued his challenge to our Olympic fencers.”
All the same, the imposition of a life ban on a 19-year-old only because he had questioned the selection procedure for the Olympic team is surely one of the most severe penalties ever pronounced within amateur sport in the democratic world and is not to be surpassed in its excessiveness.
In the years that followed, Lawrence Gough fought to regain his fencing licence. He made progress in that the FIE International Fencing Federation changed its articles of association on the basis of his case. This enabled the FIE to examine the internal working methods of the national federations. There was an investigation committee for the Gough case and in 1972, the Irish federation was obliged to issue a licence to Lawrence Gough. No matter how brazenly, the persons on the board missed no opportunity that arose to harass Lawrence Gough in spite of the order from the International Fencing Federation.
So Lawrence Gough had his FIE licence back but still could not train in Ireland, his native country. At that time, the few fencing clubs in the land were dependent on the Irish Fencing Federation and did not dare challenge its attitude and behaviour towards Gough.
In order to train and fence, Lawrence Gough, now 23, was forced to leave his native country and did so at the end of July 1973 – with all the consequences that this implied for his professional and private life. He decided on the Federal Republic of Germany, one of the strongest fencing nations in the world. He became a member of a German fencing club and received a fencing licence from the DFB German Fencing Federation. But what Lawrence Gough retained all his life was his Irish passport and Irish citizenship.
The next Olympic Games were due to take place in 1976 in Montreal. Preparing for them since 1974, Lawrence Gough scored successes in many international tournaments. In 1976, he was Ireland’s leading epéeist and, as an Irish citizen, should have been nominated for the Olympics by the Irish Fencing Federation. In February 1976, he received a letter which dashed everything:
“I wish to inform you that the IAFF [Irish Amateur Fencing Federation, now Fencing Ireland] considers that, irrespective of the results you may achieve, it would not be in the best interests of Irish fencing that you to represent Ireland in the Montreal Olympics. As a corollary the Federation will not be forwarding your results to date to the Olympic Council of Ireland.”
Even the president of the FIE International Fencing Federation was unable to get anywhere here, his hands were tied. For a second time, Lawrence Gough was cheated out of participating in the Olympic Games.
In the decades after he first came to Germany in 1973, Lawrence Gough achieved great recognition and renown as a fencer both in local fencing circles and far beyond. Also as a coach and a personality, he met with great respect. Ironically, Lawrence Gough was the face of Irish fencing both internationally and in Germany.
After almost 50 years, Lawrence Gough published his personal fencing story ‘The Gough Papers’ in December 2015 in several languages (www.goughpapers.com). In a very personal epilogue, he thanks his family for giving him an unshakeable sense of integrity, justice, honesty and fairness.
Lawrence Gough himself experienced how helpless a sportsman can be when other persons, acting out of power-mindedness and contrary to any sense of fairness, put their own interests before sporting achievements. They tried to destroy him as a sportsman and to break his will. But he was stronger: profoundly affected by his own experiences, he stood up for fairness and justice all his life.
In November 2016, Lawrence Gough died in Solingen.