The (s)elected ones

Just a quick detour into the realm of social psychology as a follow up article to my previous post on IOF elections. It presents a possible explanation why some members of the Council feel themselves highly empowered in discussions with practitioners as “member of a body elected by the General Assembly” – despite the fact that simply being selected for nomination by their national federations almost guarantees an “elected” seat in the Council.

I have to admit that during my 4 years as chairman of the MTBO Commission I got rather annoyed by Council members a couple of times . In discussions with different IOF commissions, when they ran out of arguments they simply declared that they were the ones elected to lead the IOF, hence they are the ones to decide. In some cases the Council did not even bother asking questions from practitioners, but made decisions that caused predictable confusion amongst athletes and organisers. The argument was the same: the Council was elected to make decisions, so they do what they feel like.

How can educated people who were well aware of the “election process” (or lack of it) as described in my previous post behave as if they would have won the US Presidential elections?

Most Council members completely ignored the fact that simply being selected for nomination by their national federation, almost guaranteed being elected. This was most comical for the Council sitting for the period between 2014 and 2016. In 2014 all candidates were “elected” without any voting for the simple reason that the number of candidates was equal to the number of seats to be filled.

Recently I stumbled on the explanation. The members of the Council may have fallen victim of a psychological trap explained by Paul Piff in a TEDx presentation below. Being selected to a privileged, dominant position (even if it is done randomly) may alter the way one perceives the world, talks to people, or thinks about their own achievements.



The short summary: Paul Piff, an Assistant Professor Of UC Berkeley, shows a footage of a psychological experiment – a rigged 2 player monopoly game where they randomly pick one player to be the rich guy with additional privileges. The rich player starts with more money, gets two dices to roll, and gets double the income for completing a circuit. As the selected “rich” player inevitably start winning, they start to act more aggressive, play louder, eat more of the free pretzels, mock their opponent, keep talking about their money. After the game, when they are asked to reflect on their experience, they talk about their superior tactics and strategy, rather than acknowledging the huge advantage given at the start.


Of course, Berkeley being Berkeley, the emphasis in this and in some related experiments was on rich vs poor, or at least rich vs every day folks. But money was just a feature of being in a dominant power position. They are closely linked, especially in the American society, and it is easy to use “rich” as a popular shorthand for being in a privileged position.

The psychological trap appears when you are elevated into a privileged position, like becoming a member of the IOF Council. You make decisions for the whole sport for 729 days out of 730 (except on the day of the General Assembly every second year). In essence it does not matter what you do (or even if you do not do anything) you are 98% likely to be “re-elected”. There are no practical ways that you can be questioned on your decisions. You may waste practically all the reserves of the IOF on ambitions, without achieving much. Does not matter. You will be reelected if you are nominated.

My feeling is that some Council members (past and present) have fallen into this very psychological trap. The current governance system of the IOF, including both the rules and the practice, creates a position of unchallenged privilege that is not only acts as a barrier to change, but also makes some people in position rather content with their performance.

So next time, when you meet somebody from the IOF leadership who uses the argument that – regardless of all reasonings by practitioners – the Council will decide the way they want because they are “the elected body to lead the IOF”, just remember two things: 1) the “competition” they faced to get elected, 2) that being elevated into office can play a trick on the mind of  people.

And try not to smile out too loud…

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