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.
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:
Safe / Safety
Only “safety” was mentioned, and only once: October 2015 (#176) as one of the aspects of selecting an additional sprint format for the urban WOC. The council discussed comments from the FootO Commission where safety was mentioned as one of the aspects to decide on an additional Sprint format for Urban WOC.
No other mention of “safe” or “safety” over 7 and a half years.
Injury / accident
No mention of the words “injury” or “accident” in the period, though there were accidents and injuries on major IOF events since January 2010, including very unfortunate life changing consequences.
I could find 2 cases when athletes’ health was addressed: October 2013 (#167) and January 2014 (#168), related to competing at high altitude and high/low temperatures – after the World Masters Game in Italy.
In October 2013 it was raised as a concern. Medical Commission had been asked to comment. Its initial response, stated that competing at high altitude does not pose any significant risk to the athletes.
In January 2014 “the Council asked that the Medical Commission be asked to look further into this and other relevant issues related to the health of the athletes.”
No reference to a follow up to that request, or any other discussion on athletes health.
Wellbeing was never mentioned, though that is the word used by the IOF Code of Ethics and the IOC to talk about athletes health.
Fair / fairness
In January 2010 (#150), the Council discussed issues around cooperation and following. Strengthened the rules to underline that independent navigation and fair competition are key characteristics of orienteering. That was the last time it dealt with competitive fairness.
In the same document, in the Athletes’ Commission remit it is stated that the AC’s task is to provide opinions and advice on fairness issues, but no more mention of the AC being requested to give advice of fairness issues.
In August 2010 (#152) the Council took an in-principle decision to introduce an IOF Fairness Award and asked Hugh Cameron to develop a detailed proposal for decision-making at a later meeting. No more mention of this award ever since.
There are 3 more mention of “fair” regarding procedural matters and whether the current World Ranking is a fair judge of athlete performance, but no more reference to competitive fairness.
Ceremony / ceremonies
There were 9 Council meetings where ceremonies were discussed in substance (another 5 I did not count where ceremonies were just mentioned as events) . The reason for this special attention was clearly stated in October 2014 (#167):
orienteering strives to become an Olympic sport and Council would like the award ceremony to mirror that of the Olympic Games.
This topic worths a special post at a later date, because under the presidency of Brian Porteous it has become a special point of focus. At times it has reached levels that I can compare only to the obsession that of Mrs. Hyacinth Bucket in Keeping Up Appearances, a great BBC sitcom of a snobbish social climber.
Protocol was mentioned in 11 Council minutes mainly related to the Protocol Guide in a long series of meetings starting from October 2012 (#163). The Council has decided that the IOF Protocol Guide is not meant to be a guideline and recommendation any longer, but it should be mandatory. It was also rewritten to follow the protocols of the International Olympic Committee – with hilarious consequences.
For a while the Council insisted that it should be mandatory that IOF events could be opened only by the Head of State or his or her representative or the IOF President – just like the Olympics.
Again, this is another topic that I will elaborate on in a later post.
25 sessions out of 36 dealing with Olympic ideas. The 25 does not include another 7 minutes where the word “Olympic” had no topical substance (e.g. information on a procedural letter received from the International Olympic Committee)
This does not mean that only on 25 of the 36 Council session had discussion related to the Olympic Dream on its agenda. For example, participation on The World Games is part of this dream, but its discussion may not include the world “Olympic”.
The occurrences are too many to list, but maybe the most interesting is the July 2013 (#166) meeting, where it was concluded that “It continues to be extremely difficult to get onto the programme of the Summer Games, while there are very few new sports that might be considered for inclusion in the Olympic Winter Games. […] The IOF should not, however, give up the dream of getting orienteering onto the programme of the Summer Games”.
It sounds very similar to Leho’s article 4 years later: there is very little hope for the Olympics, but we altogether have to keep chasing the Olympic Dream.
The Olympics does not look like any longer as one of the strategic directions for orienteering. It feels like an obsession for the Council. An obsession where time, money and resources do not really matter. Captain Ahab chasing Moby Dick.
Difficult to write a conclusion at the end of this post. We may just hope that the Council decides to live up to their declared Ethical Principles, and “In pursuing the sport’s goals, the governance of Orienteering shall be mindful of the physical and psychological wellbeing of its athletes.”