IOF Council attitudes – some data

I wrote my last post about the World Game accident in anger. For me it was just another unfortunate outcome of the Olympic and ceremony biased attitudes of the IOF Council I saw over the past six years. Some people less familiar with the workings of the Council – as I was myself before I was requested to join the MTBO Commission – told me that there was no real substance in that post, only emotions.

I fully appreciate that things that are obvious for me about the workings of the Council, may not be obvious for others. So I decided to compile some data to illustrate my point about the things the Council is interested in, and about the ones they are not bothered with. I have to admit, that despite having no high expectations, I was astonished by the results.

The number of Council meetings since 2010 where ceremonies were discussed was almost two times higher than the combined number of meetings where safety, accidents, injuries, athletes health and wellbeing, or competition fairness was mentioned.

This appears to be in stark contrast with the Ethical Principles of the IOF declared in the IOF Code of Ethics:

“In pursuing the sport’s goals, the governance of Orienteering shall be mindful of the physical and psychological wellbeing of its athletes.”

I used the Council meeting minutes as a proxy to the mindfulness of the Council. Few people read them, but they reflect quite well the topics the Council is dealing with. These are fairly detailed accounts of 2 to 3 day long Council meetings. Typically they are 6 to 12 pages long, though there are 4 page and 21 page long ones too. They are available on the IOF website for the periods of July 1996 to August 2003, and January 2010 to present. The ones after January 2010 (#150) are searchable. So I could easily search 36 of them spanning over 7 and a half years till today (#150-185).

Below is the summary of the number of Council minutes that contained certain key words. I counted only the occurrences with substance, as detailed below.

Council meeting minute statistics v2

I think these results speak for themselves to prove that the IOF Council does not appear to be mindful of the physical and psychological wellbeing of its athletes, both in absolute terms, and especially relative to the attention given to protocol, ceremonies, and the Olympic Dream.

See details below:

Continue reading “IOF Council attitudes – some data”

The World Games – what shall we call this?

I am lost for words. I really feel for poor Isia, the first runner of the French team on today’s Sprint Relay. I hope her injuries are not too bad, and she was lucky enough to avoid serious consequences of a situation that could have ended in a very, very bad way.

TWG Sprint Relay - French team

You can watch the video here at 25:50.

200m from the start, 15m from the map start, when everybody is in one bunch with heads down trying to make sense of the map. Barrier, thin grey bollards with sharp edges, concrete flower bed. It is a loose-loose situation in every sense.

The showcase for orienteering, two IOF advisers, LiveOrienteering coverage, full attention of the Leadership, special article from the President on the importance of The World Games on our way to the Olympics.

All the IOF focus – except for basic athletes’ safety.

Orienteering is inherently risky. You cannot make it risk free. Part of the joy is that you take on calculated risk – not only in route choice, but also in personal safety. I know this very well having involved in orienteering for over 35 years, and in MTBO – the riskiest of all disciplines – for over 10 years.

But we should do our best that athletes take on only the risk they want. They should not be exposed to unexpected hazards they are not prepared for. They should be warned, they should be routed around, organisers shall take care of the athletes at all levels. In MTBO we created an online injury database to collect data and experiences, and safety aspects especially around start and finish are regularly revisited with organisers and in Event Adviser clinics.

Here is the point where top management talk matters. Two decades of working with top managers and being in top management myself taught me that it matters much more than people in position imagine.

When all the top management talk is about high flying ambitions, attractiveness, TV production, and dignified ceremonies just like in the Olympics – it focuses the mind of organisers in one way. When there is also talk about athletes’ safety, it helps tremendously to avoid mishaps like the one we saw today.

I hate to write about this today.

The World Games – compromises

Just two quick impressions that may illustrate the compromises imposed by multi-sport events on orienteering.

TV schedule compromise

9:00 CET on Thursday, 27 July, is the start of the Sprint Relay, our most Olympic and TV friendly format that was specifically developed to attract TV viewers from close and afar. It is as short and as dynamic as orienteering gets. It is even mixed gender – everything the International Olympic Committee and TV viewers may want.

The Olympic Channel is an internet TV service operated by the IOC. It is the “official” channel of The World Games. Its Thursday schedule looks like this:

Olympic Channel - 27 July

Obviously, there are always compromises when it comes to showing a multi-sport event. But let’s try to digest: wakeboard semi-finals could beat the most TV friendly of all orienteering finals in a head-to-head clash. Could this be a gentle hint that the IOC thinks that our sport does not fit the Olympic programme? Or is this a special route choice to the peaks of Mount Olympus that only the IOF leadership could spot?

Multi-sport compromise

The arena on New Market Square in Wroclaw was the same for sport climbing and orienteering. Sport climbing was first, so a large screen was placed ideally to show all the action. It remained for orienteering to show the TV stream, including the occasional route choice analysis using the GPS tracks on the map. Right besides the Finish – and the Start.

World Games - Sprint start - screenshot

To make it more interesting, different athletes were entertained/distracted/informed by different pictures from the TV stream. Some saw the map, some others control locations, some others mistakes of earlier runners, or just some less relevant pictures. I am sure it has livened up those slowly ticking seconds of the last minute in the last box.

On our way to the Olympics.

The World Games – way or no way to the Olympics?

It is most interesting that Leho Haldna, the IOF President, felt the need to publish an article that can only be interpreted as an attempt to defend the IOF’s participation on The World Games in the name of the Olympic Dream, and to express his regret that “Unfortunately not all federations and athletes are supporting our common goal”.

Leho’s assertion is that “Our athletes and federations have to realise that the road to the Olympics is via The World Games, and The World Games are the highest level multi-sport event recognised by IOC where orienteering is on the programme.”

Let’s put aside the question whether inclusion in the Olympics would be beneficial to orienteering or not. It is a rather interesting one, but almost never discussed, so we will devote a separate post to that. Here we shall look at the facts regarding the Olympic and World Game programs, whether they support the notion that the road to the Olympics is via The World Games”.

New sports on the permanent Olympic program since 2000

Olympics - permanent sports vs WG

It seems that when IOC officials told Leho that “the World Games is a window for non-Olympic sport federations to present their sport to the IOC and in case the IOC feels the sport will fit into Olympic Games (OG) programme, then there is a chance to be selected for the OG”, they forgot to tell this to the managers of BMX sports and 3-on-3 basketball. They simply managed to get their sports on the permanent Olympic programme.

Continue reading “The World Games – way or no way to the Olympics?”

The World Games are dear to us

The World Games – “the highest profile event for sports not in the Olympic Games” according to the IOF Newsletter – have started on 20 July.

Chances are that you did not hear about The World Games from other sources. It is not carried by mainstream media. In Britain it is a “no event” for the BBC and Sky. Not a word on Lenta.ru, the leading Russian internet news portal.  In Hungary you can read about the occasional Hungarian gold.  You have to go to the IOF arena on facebook to find some excitement about The World Games.

There is nothing surprising about this silence. Not only most of the sports are somewhat offbeat, or shall I say, cater for  a specific taste, but it overlaps with several major sport events.  Just try to think about artistic roller skating, precision petanque, competitive life saving, indoor rowing, or dare I say, orienteering competing for media attention with the  completely overlapping FINA Aquatic World Championships (swimming, open water, water polo, synchro, diving), and partially overlapping Tour de France, Fencing World Championships, Beach Volleyball World Championships, and several other world events in major olympic sports.

Despite the heroic effort of the IOF PR team to present The World Games, there are two aspects not mentioned: what is the point and how much does it cost.

IOF World Games spend

Some notable points:

  • The 2017 World Games budget has increased from €10,000 in August 2016 to €30,000 in January 2017. Plus 200% in 5 months! With such dynamics, it may not be the end of increases.
  • The 2013 spend is huge, because almost all expertise (including people who can place a control on the morning of the event) had to be flown in on intercontinental flights.
  • The final spend in 2013 was more likely to be more than €86,000. For example the 2011 budget of €5,000 turned into €17,500 spent. For 2012 we have only the budget, but actual spend may be much higher. There were also rumours at the time of last minute cost increases that may have been booked on other accounting lines.
  • I am not aware of any summary report for multi-year “investments” like The World Games 2013. Apparently nobody considered important (or did not dare) to add up  the how much was spent on these events.

Continue reading “The World Games are dear to us”

Close to the Edge – IOF Financials 2016

The good news is that the IOF has just published their 2016 accounts. This is an unprecedented move. In living memory accounts were published only for General Assemblies. Never on their own more than a year before the GA meeting that should approve it in October 2018. Pity though that it took more than 3 months (or a blog?) for the Council to publish it. The financial report was signed off by the Council in March 2017. But interestingly, it was published only on 14 July, 9 days after the Presidents’ Conference.

The bad news is that the numbers are below all expectations. The losses of 2016 were even higher than the shocking results expected in January. Insolvency is not just a theoretical option any longer.

Less than 2 weeks net cash reserves left. A small negative variance (far smaller than experienced in previous years!) may push the IOF over the edge.

The Council has also sent a revised budget to member federations for 2017. Budgeted expenses were cut from €935,000 to €771,000 (a 18% cut), yet the annual profit is expected to be below €10,000, or 86% down from the €70,000 presented by the IOF Council to the General Assembly in August 2016.

Here are some of the highlights until I find some time to present a more detailed and easier digestible analysis.

  • Result for 2016 was a loss of €65,281. This is well below the €37,000 loss expected in January(!), and a shocking €132,737(!!!) below the €67,456 profit predicted by the IOF Council in August 2016 – only 4 months before year end!
  • Reserves are down to €45,022 – a low level last seen in 2003. The difference is that in 2003 when costs were below €200,000, it covered 3 months of it. In 2017, at the original budget reserves cover just above 2 weeks of average expenses. With the revised 2017 budget, at lower expected expenses, it covers 3 weeks of average expenses.
  • Net cash position is getting very tight. Out of the €45,000 reserves net cash is probably not more than €27,000 – and likely to be less. This includes adjustment for less than €8000 machinery and equipment, and €10,000 debt of the Brazilian Federation from 2014 converted into long term debt to finance South American development. (see https://www.cbo.org.br/financas  2016 – Acordo IOF CBO – Debt Agreement Original em inglês.pdf – unfortunately, this information for some reason is not available from the IOF website) There are other items that are likely to reduce the net cash position further (there were references to long outstanding debts in Council minutes, inventory may not be fully used, etc).
  • Net cash position of less than €27,000 covers less than 2 weeks of average expenses, even under the cut budget of 2017. Any development below optimal would wipe it out.
  • The stated cash of €191,000 in hand and at banks should not confuse anybody. There were unpaid invoices in the amount of €172,000, and a further €80,000 services already consumed with no invoices received yet.
  •  The less than €10,000 expected profit for 2017 would not change the situation in practical terms. We – including IOF suppliers, contractors, and employees – are in for a long ride close to the edge. We can only hope that we will ride on the right side of that edge.

The overall situation of the IOF has become difficult to sustain. Even if insolvency can be avoided, the sword of Damocles will hang over it for many years to come, if things are not changed radically.

Member federations may need to start to warm up to the idea of a cash call, say an extraordinary annual membership fee.

A complete rethink of IOF’s operation also looks unavoidable – asap! It would be inconvenient, but it is better to do it now, before one is forced to do it by the circumstances.

Insolvency, bankruptcy, and Orienta

Before we start to discuss the vulnerability of the IOF’s financial situation, it is important to clarify some concepts, around financial difficulties. Most of the visitors of this blog (and happy to see already 1300 unique visitors just over the first 10 days of July!) probably know little about the concepts of financial difficulties of organisations. So we have to clarify some basic ones to be able to have meaningful discussion.

Volunteer member based organisations (clubs, federations, etc) typically run very simple cash based finances, often with little or no non-cash assets. The IOF is no exception. The book value of fixed assets was only €10,000 out of the total €145,000 at the end of 2015. The rest was cash or cash-like asset (money expected and money owed within one year).

The only two basic concepts that you need to understand are as follows. I tried to explain them in layman’s terms to avoid the sometimes confusing language of accountancy as much as possible – while risking being excommunicated by finance professionals.

  • insolvency: when there is no cash left to pay the bills, or in other words no liquidity left – AND the ones whom you may owe money (e.g. employees, utilities, service providers, bank, tax office, etc – what they call altogether “creditors”) decide to wait no more.
    Note: one may be wealthy in general, maybe even own huge property, but if there is no cash left, only angry creditors circling around you, that means insolvency.
  • technical bankruptcy: when the value of what you own (either what you have in hand or as a firm promise – called “total assets”), is smaller than your obligations (whatever money you owe others in unpaid bills or in cash advance received – called “total liabilities”). It is technical, because you will get into trouble only if everybody you owe something would ask for it. That is rarely the case. Nevertheless, you live on borrowed time. Your net “savings” are less than zero.  It is also called “negative equity”.
    Note: one may have lot’s cash, but if total assets are less than total liabilities, that means technical bankruptcy. The cash in your pocket belongs to somebody else, just not paid yet.

These concepts are simple, but may be tricky to grasp when written down. So instead of getting into lengthy explanations, I would like to introduce you Orienta, a lady artist in her mid-50s, and explain these concepts showing  the problems around her finances.

Meet Orienta

Orienta was an artist with a small, but devoted followership who were rushing around with little painted pictures. She was living mainly on allowing charity festivals to use her name, and she charged them a fee. She also got some money from her fanclub every year, and some little from grants and the odd sponsor. She tried to earn some money on her own, but that wasn’t very successful. You know, artists….

Many dreamt about a happy and enduring relationship with Orienta, but she was capricious with most. She had a sweet spot though for a skinny tall French guy, whom she showered for over a decade with precious bijoux most of us never even dared to dream of. Ah, c’est la vie… But here we want to discuss not Orienta’s romantic life, but her finances….

… and her finances were not in good shape.

Continue reading “Insolvency, bankruptcy, and Orienta”