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.


Mismatch in evaluation criteria

The published evaluation criteria for FootO WOC are completely different from the ideas of President. The formal criteria are described in the Guidance Notes on Page 4 and in Appendix 2.

Page 4 description:

In the evaluation of the applications, the IOF will pay attention to the below aspects:

  • The applicant’s vision of the WOC and the outlined event concept
  • Preferably a centralised accommodation of athletes, officials, media representatives etc., the aim of which is to create an ‘Olympic Village’ atmosphere.
  • Suitable areas for each of the event formats
  • Attractiveness for spectators
  • Cooperation agreement with venue, local authorities and the potential for sponsorships
  • The organiser shall be committed to a top-class TV/Media production
  • The event is planned to ensure the possibility for excellent TV/Media Production
  • The arena and competition area facilities, with good press facilities and good access to phone (GPS- Tracking) and internet.
  • Spectators’ races in connection with the WOC
  • Meeting facilities
  • The overall budget and financial package proposed


Appendix 2: IOF Foot Orienteering Commission’s evaluation criteria for WOC bids

  • Concept
  • Competition areas
  • Arena suitability
  • Accommodation
  • Local Tourism
  • Organisational ability
  • Local Support
  • Climate and environmental
  • Local costs
  • English spoken (language skills of organisation)
  • English spoken (general population)
  • Broadcasting and communications
  • Safety, security and health risks
  • Transport to event centre and to venues

Now let’s see the essence of the ideas of the President as described in his article of 5 December:

Priorities of the President

  • maps,
  • course setting,
  • punching and timekeeping

It seems that there is a complete mismatch between the criteria important to the IOF President as described in his call for focus on quality and the formal materials of the IOF. This is really strange, but there is more to come.


Mismatch in formal obligations

One may also observe a mismatch in formal obligations prescribed in the Guidance Notes and in the sample contract published vs. the priorities of the President. Here is an example of the requirements for the MTBO World Championships organisers, also published renewed for the current application round in December.

“The Organiser agrees to undertake the practical work and the costs of the preparations, facilities and equipment needed for, at a minimum, arena and live-stream production coverage of the event. A live-stream production is of lower quality than a full TV-production but have most of the components as commentators, live cameras, live results and live GPS tracking graphics.

A 26-minute highlights program from each competition shall be produced.”  (that is 5 times 26 minutes!)

In the contract it also stipulates that “The highlights programs shall be available for distribution at the latest 7 days after The Event.”

These are new requirements introduced this year and published concurrently to the President announcing his Priorities on Critical to Quality aspects of major events.

Yet, there are no specific requirements on maps, course setting and time keeping / punching that were declared to be the most important things for the President. There is only a  single line mentioning that “The event shall provide worthy competitions of high technical quality for the athletes”.

I know pretty well all the potential MTBO organisers, and I know that few can deliver on the obligation of multiple live cameras and producing sufficient amount of raw footage for meaningful 5×26 minute long highlights without jeopardizing basic event quality requirements. Not because they would not like, but simply due to lack of resources. Pity that there was no proper consultation on what would be a realistic demand on organisers to deliver while ensuring that the core of the event is delivered properly.

Of course, it is important that the IOF communicates expectations for media coverage. Every organiser also attempts to deliver the highest quality event, including visibility. In 2017 there was live TV broadcast of the Sprint competition on the last MTBO World Championships in Lithuania. But so far this level of media coverage is the exception, not the rule.

It would be absolutely right to announce that priority will be given to organisers who commit themselves to deliver on higher visibility requirements. But make them compulsory is a surefire way of damaging the sport at its current level of development by either diverting resources from quality aspects, or by scaring away organisers from countries at lower level of development or with a more cautious culture.

The question is just as above: how could there be such a mismatch between the priorities of the President communicated to the public about critical to quality aspects and the written obligations on applicants to organise major events?


Mismatch in financial obligations

It seems that there is also a major gap between the financial obligations imposed by the IOF on organisers of major events and the good words of the President:

“My personal suggestion is to find good marketing managers to raise money and invest into event quality. The money we are talking about in order to secure CTQ on high level events is relatively small. For example, in the WOC budget it’s between 5-10%.  We, the IOF, have spent a lot of human resources on event advising and also real cash money just to secure that requirements in CTQ areas are fulfilled. Please do not save on CTQ!”

Of course the President is well aware that organisers, as a rule, start from a deep cash hole imposed by the IOF. The money required to secure CTQ is relatively small compared to WOC budget because of the huge obligations piled on the organisers by the IOF.

For example, FootO WOC organisers start from a financial hole of close to €200,000 imposed by the IOF – before they spent a single cent on “CTQ” like maps, IT systems, arena production, not to talk about all the accommodation and food for an army of volunteers, etc. etc. The expense items imposed by the IOF are as follows:

  • €60,000 sanction fee to the IOF (at a minimum, under the new concept)
  • €100,000 (give or take) to deliver TV and arena production as required
  • €3750 for anti-doping fee (plus setting up local AD facilities)
  • free VIP service to IOF officials
  • free VIP and media event
  • free meeting rooms for all IOF business, commissions, etc.

In addition, the IOF newly introduced a demand for an open cheque to spend on IT upon the decision of the Event Advisor who has a rather asymmetric risk profile: no financial responsibility, but a strong interest to cover all possible risk factors.

“9.6.2 Should the EA-team deem it necessary, to fulfil the IT quality requirements set for IOF major events, the IOF may negotiate any additional agreements required for the provision of IT Services (including punching, time-keeping, arena production and media services) to supplement any agreements made by <ORG>. <ORG> agrees to utilize and pay the costs of such a contract if necessary.”     (underline by me)

It is important to note that the lion share of these financial obligations set by the IOF are cash obligations. Cash is the most difficult to get form of sponsorship. One may get relatively easily in-kind contributions to an event, but cash contributions are always difficult to get outside the richest countries with established orienteering base.

To understand how deep this over €200,000 hole is, note two interesting points. First, the €60,000 sanction fee paid to the IOF does not cover the most valuable marketing rights of the WOC: the Title Sponsor and the Gold Sponsor. These rights are retained by the IOF. If the IOF cannot sell them, the organisers can purchase them for an additional €50,000 for Title Sponsor and €25,000 for Gold Sponsor. So you can imagine the challenge of the marketing effort to find the money for all the contractual obligations set by the IOF.

On the top of all these substantial contractual requirements the President urges organisers to spend on what he considers really important, because it would add only 5-10% to the budget.

Why does not the IOF oblige organisers to spend first on what is considered to be Critical to Quality instead of all the other nice to haves?

The “personal suggestion” of the President is to employ good marketing managers to raise money and invest into quality (of course, only after finding €200,000 to spend on contractual obligations). Wise words from a manager who knows all the difficulties to market orienteering and keep budgets:

  • He was in the leadership of the IOF with active involvement in financial matters for the full 10 years when the IOF could not meet its budgeted results for a single time.
  • He presented to the 2016 General Assembly the budget of 2017-18 and the update for 2016, that turned out to be the biggest flop in IOF history delivering an expected loss of €25,000 instead of a promised surplus of €302,000.
  • He was Senior Vice President turned President in 2016, the year when the IOF suffered one of its largest annual loss despite employing two marketing managers.

Again we see that the ideas of the President are not reflected in the conduct of the IOF. The organisers are not guided by the contract to spend more on the elements that are critical to quality. Just the opposite. There are substantial financial obligations to spend on things that are secondary of importance for event quality.


Mind the gap

So what could be the explanation of this complete mismatch of evaluation criteria, obligations and financial requirements?  Could it happen that the wisdom of the relatively President is yet to penetrate the organisation?

For the avoidance of doubt, we are not talking about a new leader on top of a major organisation with tens of thousands of employees where it takes considerable time for the thoughts of new leadership to filter through layers and layers of corporate structure.

The IOF had 3 full time employees at the time the WOC evaluation criteria were published, and the President was in Office for 16 months after 4 years as Senior Vice President and member of the Council since 2002. Difficult to imagine that the views of the President were not known to the Office when they prepared the WOC application forms.

Could it happen that the Office completely ignored the President’s view? Or does the President communicate one thing to the public and something else internally?

Whatever is the root cause for this mismatch, there appears to be a massive gap between the President’s words and the actions of the IOF. There is a significant risk that the guiding thoughts of the President just remain words, words, words – as famously described by another Nordic thinker who also found it rather challenging to match his ideas and actions.

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