But what could be a better place to demonstrate Fair Play in orienteering for the wider audience than a World Cup in Sweden on the IOF web-TV?
The highly knowledgable speakers could explain in detail how elite orienteering works, what runners may think and what they may need to do to deliver good results. Young athletes and runners from developing orienteering nations got the proper practical demonstration of Fair Play.
“those two working together can do really good orienteering”
“all he has to do is trying to lock eyes on the back of the Swede”
Anybody who worked on culture change projects knows that nothing works better than highly visible people demonstrating the expected norms while commentators reinforcing them. The IOF web-TV is a most helpful way to educate young athletes and new orienteering nations about the strong ethical value of Fair Play in our sport.
The only possible improvement that I could suggest is stressing that orienteering is a religion, and as in every religion, one should learn both the commandments and their applicability. It can get awkward if you do not know who are the ones who can pick and choose which commandment to keep and which one to break without consequences while being unhappy if others do not keep all of them.
– * – * –
Anybody interested in broader context, may want to check the IOF web-TV of the Long competition:
1:10:35 to 1:11:20 – AB caught up with LR after 25 minutes: “those two working together can do really good orienteering”
3:31:30 to 3:33:25 – GB caught up with DH and developed a longer gap “DH is gonna’ really work hard now to try to stay on the back of GB” “at this point all DH has got to do is trying to lock eyes on the back of the Swede, trying to make that ground back whilst we have this good visibility“
Sport is full of psychological barriers. It is much easier to achieve something you know is achievable, than breaking new limits and conventional thinking. Bannister’s 4-minute mile and Fosbury’s flop are just some of the classic examples that new horizons can be opened up in sport and business by breaking the limits of conventional thinking. For some athletes a key psychological barrier in international orienteering is set by the word “independently” in Rule 1.2.
The IOF Council should consider the option of a rule change that both simplifies the Rules, improves Fair Play by removing a key psychological barrier, and opens up new horizons to orienteering as an inclusive new team sport with high spectator appeal.
This could be a highly impactful outcome of the follow-up discussions planned by the IOF Council after WOC 2021 Long. This archaic word not only prevented excellent athletes from achieving their full potential, but triggered bitter debates and harmful division within the ranks of the aficionados of our beloved sport.
The most likely root cause of all these debates is that the very concept of “independently” appears to be lost history.
The removal of the word “independently” from Rule 1.2 is unlikely to cause any change in practice of orienteering events, because it has long lost any practical relevance anyhow.
By the removal several goals could be achieved quickly and efficiently.
No more debate whether the WOC 2021 Long medals were awarded to the Team or Individual winners
No more fruitless discussions trying to define what independent navigation is
Overall improvement in Fair Play by removing self-restrictive practices
Simplified Rules, a pet project of the IOF President
Unleashed creativity for orienteering teams
New level of interaction with spectators as team members
Below I briefly outline two simple ideas, one for forest and one for urban events, that could be easily implemented to make orienteering a more spectator and media friendly sport after removing this paralyzing psychological barrier.
The important thing to realise is that there is nothing in these ideas that would be in conflict with current practice of the IOF. The barriers are only psychological even today.
This looks somewhat cryptic. Medalists running together did not disturb the Council on previous occasions. For example in 2017 the Council did not even blink when the Swedish trailer stayed for 70 minutes behind the World Champion to finish with a bronze medal (and pushing Magne out of medal position on that occasion). Sadly, that was far from being the only occasion for a medalist running together with the winner for a considerable length of the course.
This requirement for a “follow-up discussion” also looks strange, because if the Council considers it a “fact” that these athletes were “running together” – in the sense of following or cooperation – then at least 2 of the 3 broke the rules and might be subject to disqualification:
Of course, the wording of the rule is “may” that allows for some flexibility for the organisers so that they can consider special circumstances.
Is the “follow-up discussion” required by the Council aims at trying to find an argument to justify that these athletes were not disqualified?
That should not be a problem: the silver medalist is a World and European Champion who is above suspicion of breaking the Rules, and the bronze medalist is a super fast learner by his own admission.
A Champion above suspicion
The WOC Middle competition proved to everybody who had any doubt what a great runner and navigator Matthias was. Congratulations on his excellent run on that occasion!
Of course, it shall not be considered that he broke Rule 1.2 on WOC Long. After the unfortunate coincidence of winning the European Championships when his brother was the course setter, many commentators asserted strongly that he is such a great athlete that there should be no doubt that he achieves his results without breaking rules.
Probably we shall view his performance on WOC Long as a testament of his ability of super concentration. Imagine: running as a fresh World Champion after 25 minutes you meet the 9 years younger kid in the forest who started 3 minutes behind you. What’s more, that disrespectful kid keeps zig-zagging in front of you for 70 minutes and punches on 22 controls (out of 24 remaining) only 1 to 7 seconds before you. This might have been a distraction to lesser orienteers, but Matthias managed to tune out the kid in front of him, focus on his independent navigation and improve his position from 12th on Control 4 (before they met) to a well deserved 2nd in the Finish.
Additional evidence supporting his independent performance is how happy he was winning his first Long distance medal. Although the speaker of the web-TV broadcast suggested that he might not be very proud of this medal (implying that maybe he got some help running behind the World Champion for 70 minutes), Matthias has proven him wrong. Could a world class runner be so happy about a result he achieved by breaking the Rules?
A super fast learner
There should not be any question about the independent navigation of Magne either, even if he was talking about getting an impromptu education in Long distance orienteering on the website of the Norwegian Federation
(I and (Matthias) Kyburz got simply a lesson in long distance orienteering said Magne Dæhli)
There should be no doubt that he applied his fresh learnings independently in his own race. In fact, he was proven to be such a fast learner that he improved his position from 40th (on control 4) to 3rd in the Finish.
If only the course would have been somewhat longer, with this rate of improvement he could have taken silver or even gold! (and teach Kasper a lesson about students surpassing their masters)
A performance like this should be shown as exemplary by the IOF to all young orienteers: there is always something to learn and when you learn you become better and better in no time.
– * – * –
Let’s hope that this helps the Council to settle the required follow-up discussions. Alternatively, we may have to start to think about which are the rules that apply to elite orienteers and which are the ones that shall be disregarded.
That made me realize that there are two important cornerstones of major international orienteering events: deep trust in Fair Play, and willful blindness to acknowledge that this trust is supported only by a near religious belief in this very trust itself.
Deep trust that makes international orienteering so special and so different compared to other sports. Deep trust is also the Achilles heel of international orienteering that will bring it down in the quest for more money, more fame, and the Olympic dream.
In this post I write about the nature of this trust at individual level. In my next post I will write about the nature of this trust at institutional level, including the dangers of trying to build an ever larger house of cards of international orienteering anchored on this trust.
Of course, trust in Fair Play is an essential element of all sports. Without trust in fair competition, few honest sportsmen would invest time and effort into training. There could be anomalies on some events, but those are typically detectable and rectifiable. Rogue players and referees can be banned, inspection of equipment and doping tests can be stepped up.
What differentiates orienteering from other sports, is that some of the most impactful methods of cheating – certain forms of information doping – are both unpreventable and undetectable by practical means.
Nobody can stop an organiser to give a map with a course to their favourite athlete, or stop an athlete to visit the competition area with that map. These days athletes can also make highly accurate maps from publicly available Lidar data, and no organiser can stop them visiting the terrain in secret. Even worse, nobody can prove under normal circumstances that this has ever happened.
We can only rely on trust in the ethical standards of organisers and athletes. We have to maintain this trust despite knowing that there is increasing temptation, especially for professional and semi-professional athletes, to do everything possible for better performance that brings in more money through better sponsorship contracts.
Despite the cardinal importance of this trust in Fair Play, there was little attention paid to the nature of this trust within orienteering circles. It is taken for granted and no effort was made to understand the way it works in an environment where we can only trust in trust.
For lack of time (rather than lack of interest) to write a PhD thesis on this topic, I would like to call attention to three aspects of this trust at individual level. Trust of this kind is a very complex phenomena, but I hope that calling attention to it, orienteers will start to think a bit deeper about the way it works.
The three aspects discussed below are – trust as a key tribal identity attribute for orienteers; – the way affective and cognitive trust works, and; – the imperative for our tribe to dismiss any doubt about this trust.
These points may help to understand why this trust evaporates quickly in relationship to China and remains unshaken in relationship to Switzerland, irrespective how things may look for an outsider to orienteering.
Good work takes time. Especially when the topic is as important as Fair Play.
The latest Council Minutes #204 suggests that the Council is busy working on the topic in three working groups (educational tool, guidelines, and rules/sanctions). Little specifics were revealed for the general public, but that is fully understandable considering that the issue of Fair Play was raised only 14 months earlier due to the Unfortunate Events in China in October 2019. It took a full year to accept the remit of the Fair Play Working Group in November 2020 (Minutes #203).
In this post I would like to make a modest contribution to the effort of the Guidelines Sub-Working Group led by the President of the IOF himself. One may argue that this is the most important group, because many Fair Play situations are special, and thus we will have to rely on core principles to judge them.
I have to stress that we shall also fully accept the Council’s position that “In eagerness to make everything 100% fair, there was a risk to make it too complicated, there needs to be a balance.”, but I believe that there are three areas where there should be as little compromise as possible:
The case of EOC 2021 is interesting, because some myopic purists may point out that all the course setters listed in Bulletin #2 are associated with the Swiss Team as siblings, coaches, or team mates.
These associations may raise questions around Fair Play for the ones who do not see the big picture. I would like to show that the selection of course setters for EOC 2021 is a demonstration how true Fair Play works in practice, and why there should be no question around the Fair Play credentials of the Swiss organisers and the Swiss Team.
A similar setup may raise eyebrows on an event in China, but that is rightly so. A large, traditional orienteering nation with several thousand years of experience in navigation shall be treated differently by the IOF than a small landlocked nation trying to develop the sport in an inhospitable mountainous environment.
Protecting the innocent athlete
Protecting the innocent athlete should always be a core principle of Fair Play.
Obviously, it would be unfair to disadvantage somebody by not letting them start on EOC 2021 just because their coach, brother, or 21 year old sister is the best course setter in Switzerland. They could be the only ones who understand international requirements in this small orienteering nation, and thus obviously they were requested to set the courses for EOC 2021.
This is in line with previous situations related to Fair Play. The IOF’s position was clear: no innocent athlete should be disadvantaged just because they were shown the way by a compatriote, because they made a map before of the area of WOC Sprint Final, or because the World Champion was running in front of them for 70 minutes on the WOC Long course.
Similarly, innocent volunteers, the unsung heroes of our sport should not be disadvantaged either just because they take on extra jobs. The best course setters should not be excluded just because their brothers are in the national team, or just because they contribute to the sport also through training athletes in the national team.
Everybody has to understand that in a small isolated nation there are few potential course setters with international experience. China with its vast resources can afford to import organisers from Europe. But in the middle of Europe, the resources of a federation are not comparable to that of China. Compromises are unavoidable when selecting from the few who have any idea of international course setting standards, especially in a poor pedestrian discipline where athletes cannot afford even a pair of cross-country skis or a bicycle.
Creating a level playing field
It is important also to consider the objectives of Fair Play at a higher level, not just narrowed down to a single event. It is all about creating a level playing field.
We know that there is always an element of home nation advantage in orienteering due to familiarity with local terrains. There are also variations in map making and course setting styles across nations, and obviously local athletes are used to their own national style. Course setters who know certain athletes very well may be even subconsciously influenced in their work, and thus avoid situations that could disadvantage the athletes they know.
But there are other types of advantages that come from athletes growing up in environment with deep orienteering traditions and large resources available to them. A possible higher objective of Fair Play is to balance out these inequalities amongst athletes.
One may argue that home country advantage should be suppressed for large, traditional orienteering nations like China, who used maps for over 2500 years and invented the compass. For example, using foreign map makers and course setters is a way to ensure that home country advantage is limited for the powerhouses of orienteering like China.
For small and isolated nations there is no need to introduce these type of restrictions. Home country advantage is part of the game like on EOC 2021 to ensure that local athletes have a chance to achieve meaningful results against the giants in our sport.
Safeguarding the future of our sport
Finally, it should be stressed that safeguarding the future of our sport should always be a key objective also for Fair Play considerations.
We shall remind ourselves, that in these difficult days safeguarding the future is closely related to taking care of our sponsors. Nothing serves a sponsor better than a home success of a small nation. Hence, anything that is not explicitly forbidden may be considered Fair Play to ensure that small nations get that extra chance to please their sponsors.
Any artificial limitation in the name of Fair Play on small nation organisers with big sponsors may have negative consequences. That should be avoided at all cost for the benefit of our sport and the IOF.
We shall follow closely the work of the Council’s Fair Play Working Group.
Will they look into the ‘whys’ or will they limit themselves to the ‘hows’ when it comes to Fair Play violations?
Will they ever consider why some experienced organisers see no issues following questionable practices that they would not accept if it were done by others?
Will there be a two tier Fair Play system where there are usual suspects and permanent members of the Club?
Unfortunately, so far the Council’s work looks similar to a battlefield triage, where one desperately tries to deploy limited resources with highest impact. The cases that cannot be treated and the cases that can wait are ignored, and nobody questions the reason for the war.
The IOF leadership performed at world class level handling the Fair Play Issue. Having spent two decades advising companies, small and large, to handle complex situations, I have to admire the use of modern management techniques by the IOF. We shall hope that on the General Assembly this week (8 and 10 July) member federations will also recognise this achievement.
I believe that this brilliance has to be documented as a case study also for the benefit of the general orienteering public. Orienteering athletes often study for a professional career or work in managerial and professional positions. They can benefit a lot from studying how the IOF leadership avoided to deal with the very difficult problem of Fair Play, while taking control of the situation.
Critics may point out that that the focus of the IOF management was not on solving the Fair Play Problem in orienteering. There was no sign of any specific investigation or even data collection to understand how widespread the problem is beyond the Unfortunate Events in China, there was no problem analysis, there were no objectives set, no success criteria or boundary conditions defined for any potential solution. There was no sign of a structured approach to understand the problem, despite the fact that the results of the broad based survey conducted by the IOF on Fair Play attitudes, and practical observations suggest that Fair Play violation is more widespread than we would like to admit.
These critics completely miss the point. These days the mainstream management focus, both for public and business administration, is not on solving problems, but on controlling communication and giving the impression that the issue is handled. The problem is swept under the carpet for the time being with the hope it will not come back while current management is in office. This was done brilliantly by the IOF leadership.
Solving complex problems is not easy, because they do not have objectively correct solutions like high-school maths problems. Every possible solution is a compromise. Evaluating and syndicating multidimensional compromises is difficult and prone to failure. It is a high effort, high risk approach – if one wants to do it well.
No wonder that kicking down the can the road – the best alternative to solving the problem – has become so popular up to the highest level of politics and the corporate world.
The IOF management deployed the best course of action one can advise these days to management keen to avoid dealing with the problem itself:
Defuse the situation through delaying tactics (e.g. delegating investigation to a committee, launching broad general surveys)
Focus attention on the usual suspects, don’t admit that the problem is widespread (blacks, migrants, muslims, uncivilised “new” nations are good picks these days)
Promise non-committing initiatives with no specific objectives (educational programs, future reviews, etc)
Avoid analysing the problem, the depth and breadth of it, or its root causes (it would just keep inconvenient discussion alive)
The IOF leadership has meticulously followed this textbook approach. Analysis that would have shown the links between the Fair Play Problem and IOF strategy was avoided. No meaningful debate can be launched by the public, because there is “work in progress”. No success/failure question can be raised for the lack of clear objectives and success criteria.
Below are a couple of interesting details that both budding managers may find educational, and future academics may find useful when writing up this case study as teaching material for the best schools of public and business administration.
The IOF maintains Zero Tolerance against doping in orienteering, and rightly so. Yet, until the outcry after the Unfortunate Events in China, Fair Play was treated with near Zero Sensitivity by the IOF leadership. In fact, reduced attention to Fair Play was (is?) seen as an acceptable price for the IOF’s Olympic Dream and more media friendly strategy.
In practice Fair Play violations means some form of “information doping”, including not only knowledge of the terrain, but also information from spectators and other athletes (for example following a better one). Biophysical doping is close to non existent in orienteering, while “information doping” in different forms is prevalent.
The impact on results could be just as significant, and often even bigger when it comes to information doping. No chemical doping would have helped an athlete to get a World Championship medal after losing 4 minutes to the winner on the first 20% of a course simply on orienteering speed, without a major mistake.
My recent post on Orienteering Fair Play in Practice has received lots of attention, and become one of the four most read posts on this blog within a week. I also received some very interesting private messages on the extent of the Fair Play Problem.
One thought that has emerged from the follow up discussions was that Fair Play violations are often similar to Anti Doping violations. Some comments pointed out the similarity between the Anti-Doping and Fair Play attitudes amongst elite athletes, the emergence of a subculture within some orienteering athletes on “information doping” that is quite similar in its approach to the one used by athletes using doping in doping infested sports, like road cycling.
“If others are doing everything they can get away with to gain some advantage, I should also do everything I can get away with – just to stay competitive!”
And when it comes to Fair Play in Orienteering, one can get away with a lot even in front of the IOF leadership, as discussed in the examples in my recent post. Well, a lot if you are not from an “uncivilised” new nation.
Seeing that the scandal of the Unfortunate Events in China was too big to be ignored, the communication of the IOF was squarely focused on Fair play and major events in new orienteering countries. The CEO of the IOF stressed that “I personally have been too naïve in believing that the strong ethical value of fair play which we have in orienteering as I know it, are automatically transmitted to new orienteering nations and across cultures.”
Yet, the prevalence of Fair Play problems in orienteering was confirmed by one of the slides of the IOF’s Fair Play survey.
Could they all refer to the Fair Play issues of “uncivilised” new nations?
Or is this a confirmation that Fair Play violations are endemic amongst elite athletes?
Can you imagine the IOF’s reaction if this survey was about Anti-Doping violations?
Athletes are protected from Anti-Doping violations by Zero Tolerance and substantial resources invested on deterrent checks. There was very little communicated by the IOF on Fair Play during the past 8 months since China, other than hoping that education on Fair Play will solve the problem. As if Fair Play violations happen for the lack of knowledge of athletes, coaches and organisers.
No proper investigation, no analysis on the root causes, no Zero Tolerance approach.
The General Assembly documents include nice words and a general approach based on education. Not a hint about the need to look at the basics, like the impact of the IOF’s Olympic and media focused strategy on Fair Play.
Athletes who saw (near) Zero Sensitivity to Fair Play violations until China may be rightly sceptical about the effectiveness of an IOF “educational tool” to protect the ones who follow Fair Play rules when the practice is just the opposite.
“It is not nice to show the competitor the control in a city sprint, but if you do, we will not say a word.”
“It is not nice to win a World Championship medal by following, but if you do, we will congratulate you for the result.”
“It is not nice to run the World Championship final as favourite on a map that you surveyed a couple of years ago, but if you do, we will look away.”
Isn’t it time to get more serious about Fair Play and “information doping” in orienteering and look deeper into this problem?
Or would it be enough if the “uncivilised” new nations get some formal education?
Today the IOF has announced the preparation for the first Unofficial World eOrienteering Championships later in 2020. It is unclear though what, when, and how will be organised. The objective is urgent control over the evolving eOrienteering landscape as stated in the Council minutes. It is a late wake up call to deal with something that has been around for years, but now it is so urgent that the Council decided even to violate the IOF’s Statutes with pushing through a unlawfully late proposal on the inclusion of eSports.
Yet, the question “who benefits” from this panicky rush has no clear answer.
Virtual orienteering is nothing new
Virtual orienteering has been around for many years, though it has started to boom only this year due to the limitations on real life events.
The Council has ignored for years the highly visible emergence of eSports until this month. The sudden rush may remind one of the symptoms of narcolepsy when patients wake up suddenly from deep sleep and feel disorientated.
Since the Unfortunate Events in China (hope this is a PC enough reference), the IOF has put lots of emphasis on Fair Play. The intention is to bring the topic of fair play into focus and help facilitate discussions throughout the orienteering community. A worldwide Fair Play Survey was launched and a project has been initiated to create a values-based education tool around topics of Fair Play, and to connect this via a certification to the IOF Athletes License as reported in the Council meeting minutes #197.
For the upcoming IOF General Assembly the Finnish Orienteering Federation has also submitted a proposal (see page 98 in the GA Agenda) to “save the culture and Fair play of our sport” referring to the events in China as “an excellent wake-up for orienteers who believe in trust and in the sport’s own strong culture”. They suggest a number of ethical and educational, as well as more technical actions as examples, but the focus of the proposal is to find out “which actions IOF has or will take to prevent unethical behaviour in our sport”.
All good stuff. Albeit, it feels somewhat theoretical. Everybody knows the right answer, or at least everybody can learn it. It is a bit like asking people in a Sunday school, if it is acceptable to sin or is it better to read the Bible; or upon a top university entry exam asking, if racism is tolerable. It is very unlikely that one gets the answer wrong.
This blog, trying to be helpful as always, would like to introduce the possibility of using real life situations from actual events to discuss fair play questions. There are three cases taken from the IOF’s flagship World Orienteering Championships to ensure that the situations described are real life examples for international elite orienteering.
One should note that these cases all involved athletes from leading orienteering nations that provide the strong ethical basis for fair play, and not from the “uncivilised” new orienteering nations participating on their first international events. One should also note, that none of these events triggered a public reaction by the IOF on the status of Fair Play in Orienteering, like the one in China.
The three cases from the WOCs discussed below are as follows:
2018: a Danish Spectator
2017: a Swedish Trailer
2015: a Scottish Favourite
These are all real life cases that happened over the past 5 years. Everybody remotely interested in elite orienteering will know the athletes involved. Yet, I will refer to them only by their nationality to emphasise that it is the situation that is important, not the person.