Before writing about the World Orienteering Day again, I have to stress that it is a great idea. It appears to be a good vehicle to organise orienteering events for communities, especially for schools, where sometimes all you need is a “good reason” to get things in motion.
The problem is the desperate hype around it. The desperation to claim another “World Record” of participation. It as a self-declared, self-reported world record that has no value outside self-congratulatory IOF press releases. It just reminds me too much of the Soviet hype I saw in my childhood, and the American hype I experienced in the beginning of my professional life.
This is a minor topic amongst the issues around the IOF, but it illustrates very well the mindset of the leadership: a desperate demonstration of results where the picture looks very different when you scratch the surface; a focus on meaningless numbers to avoid an honest discussion about the real issues.
This is the same mindset that decided to present great looking IOF financial plans in 2016 to the General Assembly that soon after turned out to be lightyears from reality.
Last year the oversized ambition of the IOF leadership has fallen flat on its face as discussed earlier. Overall participation has increased thanks only to the unbelievably high numbers of Turkey. In fact, participation for the rest of the World has even decreased from 203,519 (2016) to 201,571 (2017). Far-far away from the declared ambition of the IOF President of 500,000 participants.
The 500,000 participation level dreamt up by the IOF leadership looked beyond reach even for 2018. They were desperate to find a solution. And they did!
The Council has declared that World Orienteering Day in 2018 will start on 23 May and will last till 29 May. Stretching WOD over a week, but keeping the WOD name for continuity instead of introducing WOW, World Orienteering Week.
There are good reasons to extend the event over a week instead of keeping it on a single day. In some countries it may be difficult to organise these types of school events during weekdays, in some others it may be difficult during weekends. It gives lot’s of flexibility to organisers to adapt the idea to the local environment while keeping the “urgency” element of an internationally coordinated event. But why shall one still call it a “Day” instead of a “Week”?
No particular reasons were given in the Council meeting minutes #185. It was simply declared that the branding of the event stays the same. After all it has a long-long brand history stretching over a grand total of two occasions.
The WOD slogan “Be part of something bigger” has acquired a completely new meaning.
Have you ever been part of a day that lasted for a week?
The only benefit one may think about is that this way the optics would be just perfect. Overwhelming participation on WOD 2018 compared to WOD 2017. The IOF target of 500 000 participants, at 5000 locations in 100 countries becomes quite achievable, especially when organisers encourage even “normal O-training” done anytime during the week to be declared as a WOD event. Anything goes, as long as they increase the headline number to achieve the President’s vision of 500,000.
One example is the recent email from the British Orienteering Federation sent to clubs explaining “Your club can simply be involved by tagging on the words ‘World Orienteering Day’ to fixtures planned to take place on Wednesday 23 May through to Wednesday 30 May 2018 on the fixtures list on the British Orienteering website“. No new activity is required. Just add the number of participants of events planned anyhow. It really starts to look like a pure accounting exercise to inflate the numbers irrespective of the content.
But this is not the end of this story…
A stroke of genius – a solution for ages to come
I have to admit that redefining the calendar was a stroke of genius by the IOF Council. In my work over decades I saw many managers in business struggling to deliver their targets. When they ran out of business ideas, they often tried a wide range of tricks to make the numbers look much better than they actually were. In general, these attempts were referred to as “creative accounting”
But none of them came to the idea to redefine the calendar, and declare that the results of a day should be the sum of results over seven days.
The brilliance of this solution is that it is generic. It can be applied again and again with different parameters when needed. If the President comes up with a new vision of 1,000,000 participants, just increase the length of the “Day” from a week to two weeks, or even to a month or two! Simples!
People with an aptitude for mathematics would really appreciate it. By changing a simple axiom (day = 24 hours), the IOF leadership has created a new universe, where participation targets are not limited by the constraints of our world. The genius of this can only be compared to the creation of the non-Eucledian geometry, also based on the change of a simple axiom about the behaviour of parallel lines.
The mindset behind the hype
In many ways the interesting question is the mindset of the IOF leadership that calls for this hype. The mindset that does not hesitate to redefine even the calendar to achieve new targets. Why is this done? Is there anybody who really cares?
It is difficult to see, even difficult to imagine, that anybody outside the IOF propaganda machine is really interested in these “World Records”.
Sponsors and journalists involved in orienteering know very well that WOD numbers do not reflect the reality of the sport. Just as a reminder, 30% of participation in 2017 was from Turkey! Great to see that activity, but it just does not reflect worldwide reality.
The International Olympic Committee is far more interested in e-sports than in orienteering as a new Olympic sport. In any case, it is clear that the rivals of orienteering for Olympic inclusion, like sports climbing or baseball, have much-much higher worldwide participation numbers on boring weekdays than on special orienteering days.
It is difficult to see any other beneficiary of this self declared, self administered and independently non-verifiable “World Record” participation than the IOF’s attempt to show results where there is little to show. As the presentation of the 2017 WOD results was celebrating the new “World Record” without mentioning that the numbers outside Turkey have in fact decreased, the 2018 narrative is already focused on achieving new records without explicitly mentioning that these are not comparable to 2016 or 2017.
This is the same mindset that decided to present the 2017 dream budget to the General Assembly in 2016 and a positive result expectation for 2016. As we know, within months both sets of financial forecasts were proven to be far detached from reality. There was such a big gap between the forecast and the actuals that it was difficult to believe that the IOF leadership was not aware of the fact that the numbers presented at the end of August did not represent the true status of financials neither for 2016, nor for 2017.
Now this mindset has led to a WOD arrangement for 2018 that shall ensure good looking numbers that will be detached from the reality of world wide development of orienteering.
To make things even more interesting, the “official” world record of most participants in an orienteering event (multi venue) is still the one achieved in Switzerland in 2003.
But that is a topic for my next post.