IOF’s World Orienteering Day website on the wrong side of the law

A reader of this blog has called my attention that something looks rather odd with the website of the World Orienteering Day (WOD). The volunteers who sign up cannot opt out from being included on mailing lists that are probably marketing oriented. I asked some legal experts of this field, and they confirmed that the WOD website is on the wrong side of the law, at least in Europe.

According to the lawyers with expertise in internet and data protection, the WOD website blatantly violates the Europe level law of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the EU), coming into effect on 25 May. I dutifully passed this information on the IOF’s President and CEO, since they are the ones responsible for the lawful operations of the IOF.

According to the lawyers, the website also violates current EU guidelines on internet data use, thus chances are that it also violates existing Swedish laws, but they did not have time to dig into that. After all, it does not really matter. The big issue is whether the website complies the law coming into power on 25 May.

The GDPR requires that not only the current WOD website should be changed, but all data collected on the current website in a non-GDPR compliant way should be deleted before 25 May. All names, phone numbers, email addresses should go, unless explicit consent is obtained, one by one, from the volunteers signed up so far.

WOD_consent_form annotated

The current website forces consent from volunteers in a very deceiving way by showing a pre-checked tick box to accept that the user is included on mailing lists for information from the IOF and its partners. The above picture shows the deceiving check box. The little “forbidden” sign at the base of the cursor indicates that the box is frozen. It cannot be unchecked.  In addition, there is nothing to clarify what “relevant information” may mean.

All this does not look like an accidental mistake, but it gives the feeling of a premeditated deception showing the look of a legally compliant request for permission, while it does not give the legally required choice to the user.

This is bad news.

Unfortunately, it is not surprising.

The IOF leadership has a rich track record of doing and tolerating practices that may raise serious questions. I shared some of these stories in earlier posts here and here. Judging by this track record there are no assurances that meaningful action will be taken. Chances are that the IOF leadership will hope to “get away” with it.

That would be worse news.

The IOF may not be in the primary focus of a GDPR audit, but the breach of the law and its apparently intentional nature is rather obvious for people involved in this subject. Although the new GDPR regulation may have been inspired by marketing practices, it is taken very seriously even by charities and voluntary organisations across Europe in their effort to redesign communication with their volunteers. For example, the RNLI, a charity where I am involved as a volunteer crew member, has made it very clear to each and every of its members that compliance with GDPR is taken very seriously across the organisation both in internal and external communications. The RNLI has an almost 200 year long history with a reputation and social respect head and shoulders above all sports organisations.  Yet, they did not try to “get away” with ignoring the law. Maybe, that is one of the reasons why they have a far superior reputation.

The EU has significantly increased the fines on data protection related matters. Violation of the GDPR  carries serious legal, financial and reputational risk. The fines are several magnitude higher than they were previously: up to €20 million if there has been an infringement of the basic principles, including conditions of consent and data subjects’ rights, i.e. the exact situation with the WOD website. Compare this to the so far record fine of £400,000 for data protection violation in the UK. Apparently the regulators across the EU got pissed off by various entities who tried to “get away” with violating the law.

Needless to stay that even 1% of that maximum fine of €20 million could be lethal to the IOF in its current, rather shaky financial condition.

Is it worth the risk?

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Below you may read more details on the nature of the WOD website’s violation of the GDPR. A more detailed description of the situation and an assessment whether it was more likely an accidental mistake or a deliberate deception of the user.

Continue reading “IOF’s World Orienteering Day website on the wrong side of the law”

IOF claimed new World Record after failing own aspiration to set one

In my last post about World Orienteering Day I expressed my doubts that anybody outside the IOF is really interested in the World Orienteering Day(s) for achieving another “World Record” of most participants on a multi venue orienteering event.

But let’s assume for a moment that somebody, a potential sponsor, a journalist, or IOC official gets interested in this metric. If they start to scratch the surface of IOF propaganda, they are in for a nasty surprise: the world records claimed are not verified despite the original aspiration of the IOF. In addition, the underlying numbers show failing participation masked by the unbelievably large numbers from Turkey.

The failed aspiration

People interested in offbeat world records traditionally look for the Guinness World Records as guidance. People looking for an independent confirmation of a verified orienteering participation record are in for a surprise:

The verified world record for most participants belong to a 2003 school event by the Swiss Orienteering Association, not to the WOD 2016 or 2017 as claimed by IOF press releases.

WOD - Guiness - full window

(see the above link here)

The IOF was of course aware of this record. In December 2015 it clearly stated that
“In connection with the World Orienteering Day 2016, the IOF has a vision to set a new Guinness World Record. The current record is from the WOC 2003 in Switzerland, when 207,979 young people at 1381 locations ran an orienteering course. “. 

The IOF leadership set out to break the Guinness World Record, but failing it just kept boasting with an “IOF” World Record. Just another example of the IOF propaganda claiming results even when they fail their own aspirations.

WOD IOF World Record

It is unclear if the IOF has actually tried to break the official Guinness World Record, but did not succeed with verification, or did not even try to deliver on its aspiration. But the aspiration was clear – and the IOF failed to achieve it. Yet, the IOF leadership kept talking about new world records both in 2016 and in 2017. Not a very sportsmanly approach, to say the least…

Of course, it is not easy to break a verified world record. Surprisingly, there are rules. Evidence required includes “For a mass participation record we require Stewards to supervise groups of 50 or fewer participants […] You need to upload all Steward Statements as part of your evidence. If your mass participation record involves more than 5,000 people, the counting process must be done by an auditing firm. etc, etc.”

So there could be very good reasons why an event like the WOD, focused more on promotion of the sport, does not attempt to achieve a verified world record. The focus of WOD should be on participation and fun, not on administration.

But then why claim new “world records”? Whom are we kidding?

Unfortunately, verification (or lack of it) is only part of the story.

Continue reading “IOF claimed new World Record after failing own aspiration to set one”

WOD = WOW – a Stroke of Genius

Before writing about the World Orienteering Day again, I have to stress that it is a great idea. It appears to be a good vehicle to organise orienteering events for communities, especially for schools, where sometimes all you need is a “good reason” to get things in motion.

The problem is the desperate hype around it. The desperation to claim another “World Record” of participation. It as a self-declared, self-reported world record that has no value outside self-congratulatory IOF press releases. It just reminds me too much of the Soviet hype I saw in my childhood, and the American hype I experienced in the beginning of my professional life.

This is a minor topic amongst the issues around the IOF, but it illustrates very well the mindset of the leadership: a desperate demonstration of results where the picture looks very different when you scratch the surface; a focus on meaningless numbers to avoid an honest discussion about the real issues.

This is the same mindset that decided to present great looking IOF financial plans in 2016 to the General Assembly that soon after turned out to be lightyears from reality.

Last year the oversized ambition of the IOF leadership has fallen flat on its face as discussed earlier. Overall participation has increased thanks only to the unbelievably high numbers of Turkey. In fact, participation for the rest of the World has even decreased from 203,519 (2016) to 201,571 (2017). Far-far away from the declared ambition of the IOF President of 500,000 participants.

WOD participation 2016-17 v2

The 500,000 participation level dreamt up by the IOF leadership looked beyond reach even for 2018. They were desperate to find a solution. And they did!

The Council has declared that World Orienteering Day in 2018 will start on 23 May and will last till 29 May. Stretching WOD over a week, but keeping the WOD name for continuity instead of introducing WOW, World Orienteering Week.

WOD calendar

 

There are good reasons to extend the event over a week instead of keeping it on a single day. In some countries it may be difficult to organise these types of school events during weekdays, in some others it may be difficult during weekends. It gives lot’s of flexibility to organisers to adapt the idea to the local environment while keeping the “urgency” element of an internationally coordinated event. But why shall one still call it a “Day” instead of a “Week”?

No particular reasons were given in the Council meeting minutes #185. It was simply declared that the branding of the event stays the same. After all it has a long-long brand history stretching over a grand total of two occasions.

The WOD slogan “Be part of something bigger” has acquired a completely new meaning.

Have you ever been part of a day that lasted for a week?

The only benefit one may think about is that this way the optics would be just perfect. Overwhelming participation on WOD 2018 compared to WOD 2017. The IOF target of 500 000 participants, at 5000 locations in 100 countries becomes quite achievable, especially when organisers encourage even “normal O-training” done anytime during the week to be declared as a WOD event. Anything goes, as long as they increase the headline number to achieve the President’s vision of 500,000.

One example is the recent email from the British Orienteering Federation sent to clubs explaining “Your club can simply be involved by tagging on the words ‘World Orienteering Day’ to fixtures planned to take place on Wednesday 23 May through to Wednesday 30 May 2018 on the fixtures list on the British Orienteering website“. No new activity is required. Just add the number of participants of events planned anyhow. It really starts to look like a pure accounting exercise to inflate the numbers irrespective of the content.

But this is not the end of this story…

Continue reading “WOD = WOW – a Stroke of Genius”

IOF Financials – Smoke and Mirrors

Let’s get back to the sensitive question of IOF financials. In January I hoped that there might be some meaningful information shared after the IOF Joint meeting where finances was a surprise topic. Unfortunately, the slides of the strategy/finance presentation of the joint meeting were not published by the IOF despite some very positive vibes coming from that meeting. Only the formal minutes related to the meeting were published here and here.

The 2017 audited financial reports are probably already prepared, but we may have to wait for a long time before we see reliable numbers. Last year the audited accounts were not shared with member federations for 3 months. They were sent to members only after the Presidents’ Conference, maybe to avoid inconvenient questions on the conference.

In the meantime, there were bits and pieces of information shared by the IOF clearly with the intention to prop up confidence about the state of finances:

  • The January Council meeting minutes (#187) stated that the IOF had a “a cash position of 157 TEUR at the end of year 2017” under Point 10.2
  • In the same minutes under the same point it was stated that “preliminary financials showed a final result of approximately 16 TEUR”
  • The message of the non-public January meeting was that “the IOF’s financial situation is stable and balanced” as reported for example by the German Federation’s web page based on the report of German delegates.

In this post I would like to show you why one has to take these pieces of seemingly positive information cautiously, especially when they come from an organisation with stretched financials. That’s why I referred to these as “smoke and mirrors” in the title. They give the feeling of an intention is to strengthen confidence, they sound good to people not familiar with the ins and outs of financial reports, but they give no guarantee that the actual financial performance was good or not.

I hope this discussion may also help some Council members (many of whom read this blog) to have a more meaningful discussion next weekend on the Council meeting in Belgium.

Cash position

A “cash position of 157 TEUR at the end of year 2017″ must be good news, mustn’t it? Yes, it is definitely better to have some cash on the bank account, but there is not much more one can say. In an earlier post I wrote about how the amount of cash in hand does not correlate with financial stability. One less familiar with finances may want to read that post first.

Here I will show the balance sheet development of the IOF over the past couple of years to illustrate the same point with hard data.

IOF current assets vs liabilities v2

The above chart shows a simplified picture of the IOF balance sheet. Before we start to analyse it, I would like to explain the basics of accounting for the majority of readers less familiar with the black magic of financial reports.

Continue reading “IOF Financials – Smoke and Mirrors”

The (s)elected ones

Just a quick detour into the realm of social psychology as a follow up article to my previous post on IOF elections. It presents a possible explanation why some members of the Council feel themselves highly empowered in discussions with practitioners as “member of a body elected by the General Assembly” – despite the fact that simply being selected for nomination by their national federations almost guarantees an “elected” seat in the Council.

I have to admit that during my 4 years as chairman of the MTBO Commission I got rather annoyed by Council members a couple of times . In discussions with different IOF commissions, when they ran out of arguments they simply declared that they were the ones elected to lead the IOF, hence they are the ones to decide. In some cases the Council did not even bother asking questions from practitioners, but made decisions that caused predictable confusion amongst athletes and organisers. The argument was the same: the Council was elected to make decisions, so they do what they feel like.

How can educated people who were well aware of the “election process” (or lack of it) as described in my previous post behave as if they would have won the US Presidential elections?

Most Council members completely ignored the fact that simply being selected for nomination by their national federation, almost guaranteed being elected. This was most comical for the Council sitting for the period between 2014 and 2016. In 2014 all candidates were “elected” without any voting for the simple reason that the number of candidates was equal to the number of seats to be filled.

Recently I stumbled on the explanation. The members of the Council may have fallen victim of a psychological trap explained by Paul Piff in a TEDx presentation below. Being selected to a privileged, dominant position (even if it is done randomly) may alter the way one perceives the world, talks to people, or thinks about their own achievements.

 

 

The short summary: Paul Piff, an Assistant Professor Of UC Berkeley, shows a footage of a psychological experiment – a rigged 2 player monopoly game where they randomly pick one player to be the rich guy with additional privileges. The rich player starts with more money, gets two dices to roll, and gets double the income for completing a circuit. As the selected “rich” player inevitably start winning, they start to act more aggressive, play louder, eat more of the free pretzels, mock their opponent, keep talking about their money. After the game, when they are asked to reflect on their experience, they talk about their superior tactics and strategy, rather than acknowledging the huge advantage given at the start.

Continue reading “The (s)elected ones”

Our leaders are the finest men

This post is not another one about the ethics of the IOF, but about elections. The title comes from a classic American protest song of the 1960s by Tom Paxton.

Many, many moons ago, in high school, my English teacher used American protest songs to liven up his classes and to make us learn more than just proper grammar. His unorthodox methods eventually earned him even a CBE, but that is another story. These days when I think about the IOF I often recall Tom Paxton’s song about how children are taught to avoid questioning the status quo.

Tom Paxton saw the stability of the US political system a hindrance to progress and accountability. The stability built into the IOF governance system may well be a hindrance to the development and accountability in orienteering.

I learned our government must be strong
It’s always right and never wrong
Our leaders are the finest men
And we elect them again and again

You can find the original here on Youtube.

It seems that the current IOF governance system is a key component of the issues around the federation. The checks and balances that are supposed to ensure that the Council works for the general good in practice do not really work.

These include, but not limited to the following:

  • There is no control over the Council between the General Assemblies (i.e. on 729 days out of 730), thus the President and Council does what they want, including modifying GA decisions at will (the most obvious is the modification of the budget only months after approval – here and here )
  • There are no consequences for giving information to the General Assembly that may raise serious questions around its reliability (the 2016 financial status is probably the best documented one here)
  • There are no accountability for actions (or in some cases inactions) that could raise serious ethical questions in a more disciplined environment. (see here a few examples)

The contested elections would provide the ultimate checks and balances, but in practice they do not exist. Just the opposite: the IOF election system provides the stability for the Council to stay in place. There is stability derived from the low number of candidates, from the system, and the culture of Council itself.

Stability in the numbers

On paper the General Assembly elects the President and the Council, but in practice they have little choice. A few charts speak better that thousand words:

IOF Presidential election 2000-16

I do not have hard data from previous years, but nobody I spoke to could remember another occasion other than 2012 since 1961 (28 elections altogether) when the election of the president was contested.  Sorry to say, but President Putin and President Erdoğan have to face much more competition in their quest to retain their position. It seems that IOF Presidents stay in position unchallenged until they want.

The number of candidates for Council positions is not much higher. In fact, the total choice offered over the last 9 elections is remarkably similar: 10 for 9 for president (11% extra) and 93 for 82 (13% extra to choose from) for Council positions.

IOF Council election 2000-16

(for simplicity I combined the number of candidates for vice president and council member, though they are elected separately)

The number of people actually facing election is far less due to low number of candidates and set quotas (at least 2 of each gender and at least 2 from outside Europe). In 2016 three people were “elected” with no competition. In 2014 the whole Council, all the eleven people, took their position with the General Assembly given the possibility other than to applaud them.

Funnily enough, the Council’s trump card in any discussion when they face arguments from the experts of support and discipline commissions is that they are the “elected body” to make decisions for the sport. Yes, elected for the lack of choice.

Continue reading “Our leaders are the finest men”

Ethics of the IOF

Ethics is a fascinating question, especially in amateur sport federations based on volunteer work, where the common values and beliefs are the most important glue holding together the organisation.

The newly formed Ethics Commission is working on the review of the IOF internal documents and on possible amendments from the point of view of ethical and other principles contained in the IOF Code of Ethics. They asked in a Request for Consultation all member federations and other stakeholders to submit thoughts, modification proposals or any other ideas concerning various IOF documents.

Yet, when it come to ethics, practice is what really matters. And practice can be very different from written rules. The very nature of ethics is that it is primarily driven by unwritten ethical standards and not by written rules. Some well known ethical standards that often override written rules include the ethics of old boys network (I scratch your back, you scratch mine), and the ethics of omerta (silence and non interference when somebody from the group steps over the line).

One problem is that it is difficult to describe unethical behaviour in a formal way. It is just like porn: it is difficult to define, but you know it when you see it.

The other problem is whether there is an enforcing mechanism, and leadership may not decide to look away for less than respectable reasons, like convenience or old friendship.

Let me share some of the stories from the past couple of years of the IOF that might raise questions around ethical approaches. As a former chairman of a discipline commission I was involved directly in a relatively limited set of IOF questions, but being around in the organisation I could observe many more.

I selected stories from the period of different Presidents to avoid the implication that these questions linked to certain leadership. The point is not to reopen these cases, but to illustrate real life situations that may occur within an amateur sports federation, situations some may raise ethical questions. Readers may decide whether they “see it or not”.

  • The career of the secretary
  • A three quarters majority applause
  • Cui bono?
  • Respect of the rules
  • A dream budget
  • An open and honest discussion

For readability and to ensure focus on the core question these stories were somewhat condensed, but ample background information is available to expand them.

This is a longer than usual post. It may be too dense to read it through in one go. But I think that keeping these stories in one bouquet may help readers to understand that they appear to be more than random individual cases. I also wanted to give examples from the reign of different presidents to show that these are not personal questions.

One may also recognise patterns, and may even be forgiven to come to the feeling that not written rules, but the ethics of a good old boy network, and the ethics of silence govern conduct in sensitive matters within the IOF.

 

Continue reading “Ethics of the IOF”