I have decided to write this blog because I am concerned about the future of the International Orienteering Federation, and thus the future of international orienteering. There are serious strategic, financial, organizational and moral issues faced by the IOF. I felt the internal discussions to be limited, and critical feedback to be discouraged by the leadership. I am afraid that without change the IOF may go down the path of other disgraced international sports federations.
I resigned from my position in the IOF seeing no chance to bring meaningful improvement – and often not even meaningful discussion – within the existing structures.
I had served for 6 years on the IOF Mountain Bike Orienteering Commission, the second largest orienteering discipline after Foot Orienteering, 4 of which as Chairman. I saw many things that made me concerned about the future of international orienteering as a whole, not just about individual disciplines. I tried to change things from the inside, in most cases to no avail. I finally resigned seeing no chance to bring meaningful improvement – and often not even meaningful discussion – within the existing structures. You can read my resignation letter here, the follow up discussion in the MTBO Group on facebook on, and my “exit interview” on the Portuguese Orienteering blog.
In this blog I would like to share my thoughts, feelings and reflections about the IOF and international orienteering. I would also like to establish it as a discussion platform where other people may also voice their ideas both in open discussions and as guest contributors. There are different views, different approaches. I may see the problem from one angle, while others may see it from a different one. Together we have a chance to see a fuller picture. I set up a complimentary facebook page to allow everybody to comment and discuss the various topics.
Do I believe that this will help to alter the course of the IOF and improve things? Yes, though I know that the chances for change under the current structures are limited. Just look at the events at FIFA. Many saw the issues, but bad things went on for a long time until they could not be hidden any longer. Few see the depth of the problems around the IOF and most of them elect to be silent when it comes to public discussion. But change starts with realizing that we have a problem.
”The International Orienteering Federation (IOF) is mafia, just like many other sport organisations.” – Jörgen Mårtensson
In a famous interview in 2009, Jörgen Mårtensson called the IOF a mafia. As he explained, the boards (that is the Council for the IOF) in such organisations are interested mainly in keeping their own places, and have bad contact with the reality and the sport itself. He described the IOF as a sleeping organisation, which is scared to let new and strong people inside it. ”The Czech Republic tried to get my old rival Jaroslav Karcmarcik in the IOF’s board, but without success. Jaroslav could have contributed a lot in IOF, but it looks like they don’t want any interventions”
Jörgen definitely had a point, but other parallels may also be drawn with organisations that operate with no practical control over them. As I explained in my interview to the Portuguese orienteering blog, in the IOF the practices often reminded me of my university years in the Eastern block.
The IOF Council functions and makes all the important decisions with no practical control. There are no practical checks and balances. Though the General Assembly of the members is the supreme decisive body of the IOF according to the Statutes, it convenes only for 1 day every second year. That obviously limits their practical influence. Typically the GA just rubber stamps the few decisions that reach that level at all, accepts the financial report (typically with no discussion), approves the budget (typically with no discussion), and approves the activity plan drafted by the Council (typically with limited discussion, if at all). For the other 729 days in every two years, the Council has all the power to shape our sport.
The IOF Vice President requested everybody who did not believe in the Olympic vision to leave the room before the start of the discussion on the strategic Directions and Strategic Plan 2018-2024 that was supposed to address also the Olympic vision.
Meaningful internal discussions are few and far between in the IOF. The Council seldom invites representatives of the IOF commissions who could help them to understand practical implications of their decisions or raise concerns about some of their ideas. This refusal to engage in open discussions reached a new level this year in January. The plenary session of the 2017 joint meeting of IOF volunteers started by the IOF Vice President requesting everybody who did not believe in the Olympic vision to leave the room. This was the way they set the scene for an open and honest discussion on the Strategic Directions and Strategic Plan 2018-2024 that was supposed to address also the Olympic vision.
Of course, on the face of it everything looks fine in the IOF. You can read optimistic interviews with the President, including about the progress in the Olympic ambitions, there are announcements about new and new IT solutions, and increasing popularity of the sport.
In the meantime three chairmen of key commissions (Map, MTBO, SkiO) resigned this winter, IOF finances are dwindling (5 of the 8 past years were loss making, 2/3 of reserves disappeared), and there are serious strategic issues that are not addressed by the leadership.
After the FIFA scandal broke out, Brian, the IOF President of the time, was joking on the IOF joint meeting that his friends kept asking him if he was the Sepp Blatter of orienteering. Well, the IOF is rather different from FIFA in some aspects: First, the annual budget of the IOF is less than 0.1% of FIFA’s. Second, in the IOF lionshare of the budget comes from member federations, organisers, and athletes; while in football the money flows the opposite direction: from FIFA to the member federations, teams and organisers. For all other aspects? Let’s discuss…