World Orienteering Day – fewer organisers in 2018

This was a busy summer. I had no time to write proper posts. I had to help more than expected to organise the European and World Masters MTBO Championship, went to the World MTBO Championship, and also spent lots of time mapping and then organising the Isle of Man Orienteering Championships (and even done some proper work on the side).

Now it is time to get back to this blog, as there is a long list of topics waiting to be published from concluding the WOD quatrology to a more in-depth look into the history of the IOF Leadership’s Olympic ambitions.

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The announcement on the IOF website on the final numbers of the World Orienteering Day is rather subdued compared to in previous years. Not only the “World record” focused communication is gone, but there was little celebration compared to previous years. For good reasons.

The overblown targets of 500,000 participants on 5000 events in 100 countries set by the IOF leadership were missed by a wide margin from 19% to a whopping 56%. In 2018 over seven days there were even fewer events organised than in 2017 on a single day!

The Council, unsurprisingly, did not flinch in the face of defeat. There is no hint in the Council minutes #189 and #190 that they tried to understand the reasons for missing their own targets by a wide margin, figure out why organisers were not interested in WOD activities, or alter their approach other than setting the 500,000 target now for 2020 in the strategic directions (see the congress binder). As a reminder, “Let’s reach together half a million participants during WOD in 2017!” was the call of Leho for a single day event. We could get nowhere near even over a week in 2018.

One may even get the feeling as if IOF volunteers are expected to behave like Boxer, the  hardworking naive horse, who would never question the direction set by Napoleon, but believes that any problem can be solved if he works harder. In the meantime, the numbers suggest that there is a yawning gap between reality and the ambitions of the IOF leadership.

WOD countries -3

WOD events -3

WOD participants -3

WOD by country

The targets were missed by a wide margin. Even these numbers are hinging primarily on Turkey that delivered almost quarter of all participants, just a little bit less than the next three countries, Norway, Russia and Sweden combined. Unfortunately, Turkey does not have the orienteering traditions that could make these impressive numbers sustainable without strong central will. If Turkish organisers lose interest, WOD numbers will collapse.


Obviously, the limited IOF communication was focused on the higher participation numbers, carefully sidestepping inconvenient points around decreased number of organisers and only 25% higher participation despite a 7 times longer WOD period. The evident explanation is that a week long WOD allowed committed organisers to pick a date that was locally more optimal, but the WOD slogan of “be part of something bigger” has fizzled out for the simple reason that it was the ambition of the IOF Leadership and did not resonate with grassroot organisers of orienteering events.

One may get a similar feeling when looking at the WOD event reporting activity over time. It looked peculiar to me even last year, but I did not have the data to show it. This year I visited the WOD website every day to record the progress of event reporting. It has turned out to be a fascinating picture.

WOD reporting progress


One may observe that there is a natural decline of daily reporting within 4 days after the end of the WOD week, but at a level below last year’s result. This looks like a normal evolution of reporting when people report results within a couple of days after an event. The interesting bit is that reporting becomes more active a week after the last event and eventually the participation numbers are pushed to a new high. It seems that a quarter of organisers needed quite a bit of extra encouragement to remember to report their events a weeks after World Orienteering Day. Apparently they were much more interested in delivering the event for the love of the sport, and not for being “part of something bigger”.

In addition, I heard of events with hundreds of participants organised following the week of World Orienteering Day that did not even get reported according to the WOD website. The organisers could not be bothered “being part of something bigger”. They simply loved orienteering.

Maybe it is time to rethink the concept of World Orienteering Day for the sake of long term success. Let’s focus on the love of the sport instead of chasing targets with little point beyond making the IOF leadership proud when eventually they may get achieved.

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