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”

IOF Finances presentation

Next weekend, on 19-20 January, the IOF Council and the Commissions are meeting in Warsaw for the regular annual IOF joint meeting. The short common program contains an interesting topic: IOF Finances.


IOF meeting Jan 2018

This is a most interesting development for several reasons. The IOF leadership was not particularly interested in talking about finances before. They did not present anything even on the Presidents’ Conference in July 2017. Despite the IOF finances being on a knife edge the leadership just sent a letter to members July 2017 a week later to explain that they were handling financial issues since october 2016. It makes you wonder what happened that now they decided to talk about finances.

What makes it even more interesting is that the audience of this joint meeting has little to do with finances. There will be 60 or so participants invited to discuss commission matters and meet the Council for half a day. The participants are delegated to different commissions who have rather technical mandates from discipline development through mapping standards to environmental protection. They are not representing member federations. Few of the participants have relevant business background to understand finances.

In financially distressed companies management typically starts to talk about finances to technical people when they see the possibility of a financial meltdown right around the corner. We have to follow these developments closely. I will share with you any information I receive as soon as they become available.


Critical to Quality – Talk vs Action – Part 2

On 7 December the President of the IOF has published his thoughts on matters critical to quality of major events. These were refreshing thoughts, albeit somewhat unexpected, that emphasised core qualities of orienteering events like quality of maps and course setting.

“For me, CTQ at IOF major events are maps, course setting, punching and timekeeping. Of course, there are also important areas like event arenas, logistics, accommodation, ceremonies etc. at big events. But if we fail in CTQ areas, the event will be remembered forever!”

For a moment one could hope that the IOF leadership has realised what are the things organisers should focus on when staging major international orienteering events.

Yet, when we try to match the words of the President with the obligations put on organisers by the IOF, we see a mammoth gap between the two.

Mismatch between talk and action is not alien to the IOF leadership as I showed in the post about the 2024 Olympic ambitions. This is the second part of the talk vs action series.

Below I show some examples of mismatch based on the IOF Event Application documents released late 2017. That was about the time when the wise words of the President were published. Unfortunately, neither the detailed formal evaluation of applicants, nor the explicit and often contractual obligations match the words of the President.

That is really pity. In case of organisations, especially of organisations built on the effort of volunteers, matching words and actions is the single most critical feature of leadership quality.

Continue reading “Critical to Quality – Talk vs Action – Part 2”

Esports on Olympics – no joke

I have to admit that when I wrote my modest proposal I was very much focused on the workings of the IOF and invoking the spirit of Jonathan Swift’s original work, including the wording of his disclaimer. I have to admit, that in this process I did not do thorough research on esports, as it looked like more of an illustration that unexpected leftfield contenders may also show up as rivals for inclusion in the Olympics.

I received a few comments that one should not be serious about the prospects of esports; that the quote from the Paris organisers about being open to esports was from August; it was made before they got officially appointed; and in any case Bach, the President of the IOC, voiced reservations even in April about whether esports can be considered seriously as a sport.

So I looked a bit deeper, and I was stunned about the developments over the past months. Both the International Olympic Committee and FIFA made major steps embracing esports.

The direction of the Olympic movement appears to be pretty much 180 degrees to the one that would favour our beloved traditional Orienteering, whether it is done on foot, on bike or on skis.

Continue reading “Esports on Olympics – no joke”

Virtual-O – orienteering’s best chance for the Olympics

In this modest proposal I would like to lay out the key arguments for promoting the virtual format as the headline competitive format for orienteering as an Olympic sport. Thanks to the effort of Peter Furucz, the founder and developer of Virtual-O, now the IOF leadership can promote a truly marketable product for inclusion in the Olympic Games in Paris 2024.

Virtual O - map

Virtual O control

Youth appeal, a key factor for Olympic inclusion, is undeniably much stronger for a computer game than for outdoors activities these days. No wonder that the organisers of the Paris 2024 are open to the introduction of esports in the program.

Virtual orienteering solves the main concern of IOF’s leadership that the current version of orienteering is still difficult to televise and too complex to understand by  outsiders not involved in the sport. Virtual-O fully fits the strategic direction of the IOF. In essence, it is the synthesis of the declared strategic directions. It is absolutely global, visible, attractive, simple, environmentally friendly, and easy to understand for everybody. It is perfectly positioned for the Olympics.

Some may argue that this move may require some additional compromises over and above the compromises that were needed to change orienteering championships from 90 minute struggles in some of the world’s most complex remote forests to a 15 minute run on asphalt in touristy cities on C courses.

We must  have all the confidence that the uncompromising drive of the IOF leadership towards the Olympics will ensure that all the required compromises are met to make orienteering an absolutely positively definitely truly virtual sport.

This confidence is also based on the fact that this proposal is fully in line with IOF’s core strategy to meet orienteering’s potential audience in the cities, instead of trying to lure people into the forest. Bringing orienteering out of the forest to city parks was the first step. But that has proven still not attractive enough for the masses of  TV audiences.

To make orienteering attractive to a larger audience, especially TV audience, the IOF has to take orienteering where the people are.

Since most of the TV viewers are on the couch in the living room, orienteering must be brought to the couch!

Yes,  there will be resistance in the forest. The supporters of the Ancien Régime will cry foul. They will try to cling to the obsolete view that orienteering at its best is one of the physically most demanding sports on earth.

We should not worry about them. The IOF leadership has a proven track record to ignore requests of groups of athletes regardless the number of world championship titles they may possess. Money talks. The siren call of the millions of dollars promised by Olympic participation talks louder than athletes. We can be confident that the IOF leadership will do their best to make orienteering virtual, if that what is needed to attract more money.

In addition, going virtual will solve many of the current problems of orienteering from long start lists, through following, till environmental impact.

What’s not to love about it?

You may read more about Virtual O on its website, on its facebook page, and even in an interview with Peter on the IOF website.

You may read more detailed arguments for this proposal below.

Continue reading “Virtual-O – orienteering’s best chance for the Olympics”