75 years chasing Olympic Glory

The biennial General Assembly of the IOF takes place this weekend in Prague. Whoever attended these events before, or at least heard eyewitness reports, knows that it is very unlikely that anything unexpected would happen. There could be a handful of Member Federations who may try to throw a pebble into the quiet pond, but those attempts typically get attenuated by the quiet passivity of the majority, or by the deflecting tactics of the IOF Leadership. It is very, very unlikely that serious debate would take place on the General Assembly around questions of financials or anti-doping activity, no matter how much delegates may gossip about those questions over a beer or two.

I still hope though, that a Member Federation, or the IOF Leadership themselves may raise their voice to correct a very unfortunate oversight in the Strategic Directions and Focus Areas for the Congress Period 2018-2020 regarding the Olympic Ambition as quoted below (original in is in the Congress Binder):

Goal 2020:
✓ Inclusion as an optional sport for the Olympic Games in Paris 2024,
✓ Inclusion as an optional sport to Youth Olympic Games 2022 (FootO) and 2024 (SkiO)
✓ Be elected or appointed to a position in one of our stakeholder organisations

So far this is part of the usual General Assembly process that got established over the past two decades or so. The Council includes “Olympic Ambition” in the strategic plan. The General Assembly approves everything proposed by the Council with no modification. And from then on, the IOF leadership pushes the Olympic Dream, because “we have no choice; that is the mandate given by the GA; we cannot modify it; etc, etc.”

Funnily, this moral stance of  fully respecting General Assembly decisions is not observed when the President and the Council regularly modify the approved budget, even within 2 months of its approval. But that is another story.

The point of this post is to call attention to the following oversight in the 2018-2020 plan:

2019 marks the 75th year anniversary of the endeavour to include orienteering in the Olympic Games. The first negotiations with the IOC on orienteering began back in 1944, even though the IOF was not established until 1961.

This somewhat surprising, but nevertheless heartwarming information comes from the article of Heinz Tschudin, the late President of the IOF. In 1992 he published an article in Orienteering World titled Orienteering and the Olympics. I could not get a copy of the original, but here you can read a reprint published in Orienteering Canada in 1992.

Orienteering and the Olympics (1of2) - OrienteeringCanada_Newsletter_1992_Vol20_No2_FallOrienteering and the Olympics (2of2) - OrienteeringCanada_Newsletter_1992_Vol20_No2_Fall

It would be really interesting to see more information on this fact unearthed by Heinz Tschudin. It does sound strange at first sight, as we know that in 1944 majority of Europe was somewhat distracted from discussing future Olympic programmes. Yet, if we consider that in 1944 Sigfrid Edström, a Swede was the acting president of the IOC, and that SOFT, the Swedish Orienteering Federation, was already founded 1938, the story starts to look plausible. It would be fascinating to see more details on this either from the notes left by Heinz, or from the the SOFT or IOC archives.

This 26 year old article of Heinz provides superb insights into the process of trying to get  orienteering into the Olympics. I will discuss those under separate cover. Yet, I would like to call your attention to the point Heinz made about the core question he faced when tried to negotiate with the organisers of the 1982 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary:

How much money will you bring in?

36(!) years passed, but the IOF Leadership has not even tried to answer this core question that is required just to start the discussion about getting on the Olympic programme. Without a solid financial basis all the talk about Olympic Ambitions feels rather empty.

But now let’s focus on the many unique opportunities offered by this 75th anniversary, as listed below. It would be a major mistake not to use this occasion for the promotion of orienteering and the IOF’s Olympic Ambition.


Mainstream media

Probably the most important opportunity is to get a mention in mainstream media outside the Nordic Countries. A mention in media more likely to be watched and read by international decision makers and influencers.

Let’s face it, orienteering does not have a strong presence in mainstream media. For example on the BBC you cannot find much about orienteering since 2015 when the WOC was in Scotland. Since 2015 our sport was mentioned only as an episode in the Adventure Show (BBC2 Scotland – sorry, could not find viewership data), and in the activity guide as one of the 76 sporting activities recommended, from Adventure Sports through Exercise at Home to Yoga.

The 75th anniversary of the Olympic Ambition could well catch the attention of news editors focused on infotainment, that is on entertainment with information. 75 years are  something special. Few if any other international sports federation could boast with a similar track record and still keep going with their Olympic Ambition against all odds. Probably the Tug of War International Federation is the only one comparable, though they have the excuse that their sport was at least on the program of five Olympic Games from 1900 to 1920.

We shall believe that with the right approach orienteering may get a BBC coverage comparable to the World Tin Bath Championships, a major achievement by any standard. Though if we are realistic, then the multiple articles every year on Wife Carrying Competitions may be just beyond our reach for the time being.


Letter from the IOC President

A letter from the IOC President maybe an aspirational goal, but it could be still achievable. It may require the IOF to mobilise major resources and all the political connections available. But if the constellation of stars is right, it could be possible to get a letter from Thomas Bach congratulating the whole orienteering family on the 75 year anniversary, while wishing good luck and all the enthusiasm required to keep applying over the next 75 years to come.

Laymen may believe that it is not a big deal to get a short, run-of-the-mill, formally polite letter even from the IOC President that he himself saw probably only for 15 seconds when the secretary brought it for signature amongst another dozen or so similar letters. They could not be more wrong!

The letter received from Bach in support of the inaugural World Orienteering Day in 2016 was probably the second biggest honour received by the IOF from the International Olympic Committee ever.

The unquestionable biggest IOC honour was the recognition of the IOF in 1977. That still carries significant weight. That 1977 recognition is what differentiates orienteering from tin bath and wife carrying competitions when it comes to recognition and support by national sport authorities. That 1977 recognition is the only reason why the IOF was invited to apply to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, when first time in its history the IOC invited all recognised international federations to boost the number of applications (a topic of a separate post).

The second biggest honour achieved by the IOF is probably the letter below (see also on the IOF web). In 2016 Brian was immensely proud of this letter received from Bach that may not look anything special. He attributed this tremendous success to his support of Bach when SportAccord dared to criticise the IOC and the IOC retaliated. The significance of this letter was underlined by Leho when in his presidential greeting in the 2018 WOD guidelines he reiterated that “In 2016, World Orienteering Day was noted and supported by the International Olympic Committee, and by IOC President Thomas Bach himself”.

The 75 year anniversary is a unique opportunity for the IOF Leadership to get an even more special congratulatory letter from Thomas Bach that may become the pride and joy of the whole orienteering family.



Photo opportunity

If we let our imagination wild, then maybe, just maybe, there could be a joint photo opportunity between the Presidents of the IOC and IOF. This could very well surpass the significance of a simple letter from Bach. A joint photo could be featured on the IOF website for at least a decade to underline the Olympic Ambition of the IOF.

We have to understand that this would not be easy, yet it could be still more doable then getting on the Olympic programme.

First, the IOC President is rather selective with joint photos, for good reason. It sends a message. But if it could be clearly position it as nothing more than the commemoration of an historic anniversary, then there could be some hope.

Second, the IOC President is obviously very busy. We shall hope that the IOF President could be flexible enough to make himself available for those 5 minutes required for a photoshoot, whenever they may emerge. Maybe it could be done in a coffee break, of a meeting where Bach personally negotiates the inclusion of e-sports in the Olympics.


I hope that all this is sufficiently convincing for the IOF Leadership not to miss the great promotional opportunity provided by the 75 year Anniversary of the Olympic Ambition, and include the 75 year celebrations in their focus areas for 2019.

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