There were some fascinating developments over the past couple of weeks around the practical implementation of the IOF’s Olympic vision, and we could get additional insights both into the position of our favourite sport on the world scene and the real level of commitment of the IOF’s leadership.
Just a quick reminder to those sane people who spend their “orienteering time” training and competing instead of reading IOF publications: The vision of the IOF is that orienteering shall be a truly global sport and included in the Olympic and Paralympic Games. This was taken so seriously as recently as January this year, that Mikko, one of the Vice Presidents, requested volunteer commission members to leave the plenary session of the joint IOF meeting if they did not believe in the Olympic dream. He did so before the discussion on the IOF’s strategy, including the Olympic vision. Several participants confirmed that it did not sound like a joke, but a clear suggestion that simply devoting your time, expertise and energies to orienteering is not enough for the IOF’s leadership. You are no good for the IOF, if you do not believe in the Olympic vision.
Yet, when it comes to implementation of the Olympic vision, we can observe something that feels like a refreshingly quiet passivity that may signify a more rational approach by the IOF leadership.
Apparently the initiative to start working on an application for Paris came from the FFCO, the French Orienteering Federation. The public announcement that orienteering becomes a candidate sport for 2024 was made with no IOF representation. There was not even a news item on the IOF website about the FFCO announcement on the meeting with the President of the Paris 2024 organisers. It feels like a stark contrast to the devotion to the Olympic dream expected by Mikko from everybody in the IOF structure.
Of course, this quiet passivity may be the sign of acknowledging reality. L’Équipe, the French sports daily, ran a survey about the three sports people expect to be on the Olympic program in 2024. Orienteering did not make it to the 12 sports to choose from.
The question is whether we see a changing IOF strategy, or a confirmation that the Olympic dream is just a pipedream.
Or could it happen that simply no more money left in the IOF beyond spending on essential tasks?
The 2024 Olympic Program
For the ones not familiar with the intricacies of the Olympic program selection, here is a short summary from the Wikipedia entry of the 2024 games:
In 2007, the IOC established the concept of Olympics including 28 sports: 25 permanent ‘core’ sports with 3 additional sports selected for each individual Games. On 8 September 2013, IOC added wrestling to the Olympic programme for the 2020 and 2024 Games, representing one of these additional sports. However, in August 2016, the IOC added five sports to the 2020 Olympics, with plans to separately evaluate the existing 28 sports. No indication was given how this would affect the number of sports in 2024.
In short, it is a mess. But a rather crowded one. The five sports selected from Tokyo 2020 only are no small fish: baseball/softball, karate, sport climbing, surfing, and skateboarding. The same goes to several other sports that did not make it: billiard, squash, surf, water ski to mention a few that are likely to command bigger TV audience than orienteering.
In addition, the Paris organisers are keen on something completely different (quote from the same link as above):
The Paris organizers are also in discussions with the IOC and various professional eSport organizations to introduce eSports as a medal-winning sport during the Olympics. Tony Estanguet of the Paris committee said that introducing eSports would help to make the Olympics more relevant to the younger generations: “The youth, yes they are interested in esport and this kind of thing. Let’s look at it. Let’s meet them. Let’s try if we can find some bridges.”
Yet, the games in Paris give orienteering the best chance to get into the summer olympics before 2032. I’d like to be optimistic, so let’s estimate this chance as 0.1%. Not much, but much, much higher than it was for Tokyo or it will be for Los Angeles. Still, there is no sign that the IOF’s Leadership would jump on this opportunity in line with the Olympic dream they are so keen on.
On 31 July the IOC made an agreement with LA to host the 2028 games. That made Paris the only candidate for 2024. The whole selection process was a high profile event for most of 2017, yet the IOF Council minutes #186 suggests that until mid-October the IOF made no steps towards Paris 2024. It was the FFCO, the French Federation, that was keen to make an effort.
5.3 French Orienteering Federation (FFCO) – Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games
Tom Hollowell reported about the letter received from FFCO President Michel Ediar proposing cooperation in approaching the Paris 2024 OG organisers. Council discussed and agreed that Leho Haldna and Tom Hollowell should discuss cooperation and actively follow-up with the FFCO as soon as possible. Furthermore, that letters to both the OG 2024 and OG 2028 organisers should be prepared asking that Orienteering be considered for inclusion.
The apparently lukewarm approach of the Council (cooperation, letters, no real action) seems to be confirmed by the fact that the IOF was not represented when FFCO has officially announced the candidacy of orienteering for 2024. Despite the intention to cooperate and active follow up, nobody from the IOF attended the meeting on 5 December between Michel Ediar, President FFCO, and Tony Estanguet, President of the 2024 Organising Committee.
This is not a small point. Orienteering is aiming at becoming one of the additional sports selected by the organisers. Yet, the IOF leadership could not find a way to join a meeting with the President of the Paris Organising Committee.
In fact, the IOF website did not even mention the above meeting with the President of the Paris Organising Committee where orienteering has been declared officially as a candidate sport for the 2024 games.
Isn’t this a strange silence by an organisation that has a declared vision to become an Olympic sport? By an organisation that has a President who declared in his first interview after his election that “I will also work on the inclusion of orienteering into the Olympic Games.” By an organisation where the Vice President requests the volunteers who do not believe in the Olympic dream to leave the meeting before they discuss strategy.
One may left wondering what could be the reason for this. Is this a quiet change in strategy? Is there no money left for a decent application process? Or is it a self protection maneuver by the IOF leadership to distance themselves from a failed application?
After all, we shall have no false expectations about the chances of orienteering being included in the Olympics.
Reality check – L’Équipe
L’Équipe, the French sports daily, did a survey about readers’ expectations about the additional sports that can be selected by the local organising committee. You may find the original survey here.
The results of the survey are as follows
For sure, this is not an “official” view of the chances. It does not even represent the views of a representative panel. Yet, at 21,000 votes it does give some feeling about what is expected to be an Olympic sport: squash, climbing, karate followed by boules and surfing. Boules may look somewhat odd on this list, but very French. If you think about it as the summer version of curling, it is easier to visualize it on the Olympics.
One interesting point is eSport. Clearly less popular with the mature readers of L’Équipe, and it is not even recognized by the IOC as a sport. Yet, Tony Estanguet of the Paris committee (who met the FFCO above) said that introducing eSports would help to make the Olympics more relevant to the younger generations: “The youth, yes they are interested in esport and this kind of thing. Let’s look at it. Let’s meet them. Let’s try if we can find some bridges.” Words of a 3 time Olympic and 5 time World Champion in slalom canoe – not exactly a couch sport!
And what about orienteering? Well, orienteering did not even make it to the list of L’Équipe. We did not even show up on the radar.
One may of course claim that not the journalists of L’Équipe will decide on the sports included in the 2024 programme. But one should not forget that these journalists are in the same business as the Paris organisers and the International Olympic Committee: they sell sport for public consumption for a living. They have a fairly good idea what is likely to sell and what may not. Orienteering was clearly placed on their “not” list.
Lip service, or change in strategy, or no money left?
All this leaves the ones interested in the future of orienteering and the IOF in a strange place. The bullish internal communication of the Olympic ambitions is not matched by real actions when it may really matter. It is not even matched by particular external communication.
Is the Olympic ambition pushed only for internal consumption? But what is the point of paying lip service – and expecting others to pay lip service – to a cause that apparently nobody is very keen to deliver?
Do we see here the old management game when leadership tries to disassociate themselves with predictable failures, and rather hides behind noble but unachievable goals that make assessment of performance impossible?
Or do we see a change in strategy and a more rational approach that starts with quietly avoiding putting energy into pointless tasks like olympic applications?
Or could it be that there is so little money left that the IOF leadership quietly ignores long term activities?
We have to watch eagerly how this story unfolds.