End of 2018 was another busy period for me and I could not focus on this blog. Now I have a bit more time to share some thoughts on recent developments in our sport.
One topic I wanted to catch up with is the Olympic Dream. This a fascinating area of IOF activity: heightened communication around the Olympic ambitions combined with apparently haphazard activities or lack of it, and no meaningful results to show whatsoever. A year ago I already I wrote about the talk vs action related to the Paris 2024 dream.
In this post I would like to recap the current status of the Olympic Dream that sometimes gives a feeling of a black hole for IOF resources. In a separate post I will try to analyse what could make the leaders of the IOF chase this fantasy instead of focusing the limited resources on more practical tasks.
When you look beyond pink cloud ambitions, scratch the surface, and look into the details, it becomes rather obvious that the chances of orienteering being included in the Olympic programme is zero. Not slim, not poor, not little. Simply zero.
Let’s start this review with the new strategy as presented by the Council to the General Assembly in October 2018. The General Assembly – as always – unanimously approved the Strategic Directions and the Activity Plan proposed. One can read the full text in the Congress Binder, but the essence is shown below:
I found particularly interesting the “so as to” wording above. According to all dictionaries it means “in order to” or “for the purpose of”. That is, increased attractiveness of orienteering shall serve the purpose of inclusion in the Olympic and Paralympic Games, and not some l’art pour l’art (or rather sport pour le sport) love of orienteering.
The Council clearly set the Olympic Dream as the ultimate goal for orienteering from 2019 on.
To appreciate the difference, compare this with the previous, 2012 version of Strategic Directions, where the goal to position for inclusion in the Olympics was only one of the goals, not the ultimate one.
One can also see the difference in the changed approach looking at the Activity Plan for 2018-2020. Specific details of the Olympic Dream are spelled out amongst the focus areas in the same document:
Great ambitions! The intensification of the effort to throw more resources down the black hole of the Olympic Dream is emphasised by the goals of gaining inclusion in the programme of specific Olympic Games. There was nothing similar in the 2012 and 2014 activity plans. These specifics were first introduced in the 2016 plans.
The result was predictable:
- Inclusion in YOG games secured – key outcome by 2018 – FAIL
- Contact with Beijing 2022 organisers – target – NO RESULT
- Contact with Paris 2024 organisers – target – UNCLEAR (but unlikely, see below)
The outcome for the 2018-2020 Activity Plan regarding the Olympic Dream is just as predictable. Let’s look into the details below that can be easily summarised:
- The Olympic and Youth Olympic sport selection is secretive with no clear application process, and does not favour orienteering for various reasons;
- The Paralympic selection process is more transparent, but the IOF apparently did not even apply to be considered for inclusion in Paris 2024.
Summer Games – Paris 2024
A year ago I already wrote about the practical implementation (or lack of it) of the Olympic Ambitions 2024.
The minutes of the 4 October Council meeting minutes #191 (i.e. the one right before the General Assembly approved the above strategy and focus areas) admitted that there was no progress whatsoever, and hinted that unlikely that any will be.
“6.4 A letter had been received from the Paris 2024 organisers, detailing the process for inclusion for Paris 2024. Unlike the process for Tokyo 2020, there will not be an open application process. Instead they will be evaluating sports which are assessed to fit the concept of Paris 2024. Whether Orienteering had been assessed as a possible sport was not indicated, and TH [Tom Hollowell] was tasked with contacting the OCOG for clarification.”
As everybody with some experience in life knows, when you have to ask whether you are the chosen one, you can be sure that you are not the one. Asking for clarification is unlikely to lead to positive experience.
It should be noted that various communication from the IOC has confirmed that it would be more difficult to get into the Paris 2024 programme than it was to get into the Tokyo 2020. Some details were revealed in a July 2018 interview with IOC sports director Kit McConnell. There is a 2 phase process to select new sports with some decisions coming in October 2019. It was stated that “it is unlikely that all, if any, [of the 5 optional sports for Tokyo] will remain on the programme for Paris.” The most significant barrier is the 10,500 athletes overall limit that was introduced. This is 590 fewer athletes than the 11,090 expected in Tokyo 2020. These include all optional sports, as well as new events by core Olympic sports. In addition, “reducing cost and complexity” is a major objective.
Considering the above points, it is difficult to imagine that anybody in the organising committee or in the IOC would consider an “unknown” sport like orienteering for Paris 2024 at the expense of the athlete quota of core sports.
Paralympic Games – Paris 2024
There is an interesting silence in the IOF communication regarding the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games. Inclusion in the Paralympic Games is explicitly mentioned as a Main Goal for the IOF. It was already part of the 2012 strategy, as shown above. Yet, no action plan is associated with it. The last mention of the Paralympic Games in the Council minutes was in October 2017 (#186), where the President of the French Orienteering Federation initiated contact with the IOF to discuss cooperation for Paris 2024, including the Paralympics.
Yet, there was an interesting development on 22 November 2018. The International Paralympic Committee issued a statement
“As part of a 14-month exercise by the IPC [International Paralympic Committee] to determine the final sports programme for Paris 2024, recognised international federations of summer sports not yet on the Paralympic programme had until 21 November to notify the IPC whether they wanted to be considered for inclusion.
Eight international federations – International Federation of CP Football, International Federation of Powerchair Football, International Golf Federation, International Surfing Association, World Armwrestling Federation, World Karate Federation, World Para Dance Sport and World Sailing – all expressed an interest to be included.”
Apparently the IOF – in its major drive for the Olympics and Paralympics – did not even notify the IPC that they wanted to be considered for inclusion in the Paris 2024 Paralympics. Isn’t it strange?
No further hint in the Council minutes about any discussion on the Paralympics. This makes one wonder how serious is the statement in the IOF Strategic Directions that the Main Goal is to be included in the Paralympics. Could it be just a fashionable PC statement?
Winter Games – TBD 2026
It is yet to be decided where the 2026 Winter Games will take place. Only two candidates left: Stockholm, where organisers apparently lack popular and political support, and Milan-Cortina d’Ampezzo, where organisers lack financial resources. The hope that Stockholm will win and carry ski orienteering into the games looks like a fading prospect – and that’s only half of the story.
The process of programme selection for the Winter Games is even more secretive than for the Summer Games. The seven sport federations that form the Association of International Olympic Winter Sports Federations control the process and not very keen to see new federations added. Since 1964 only one new sport federation was added, or rather re-admitted to the Winter Games (curling in 1998). New sports like short track skating, freestyle skiing or snowboarding were introduced under the wings of existing sport federations.
Snowboarding is a particularly interesting case that shows that if a snow based sport becomes interesting enough to be included in the Olympics, FIS will
nick adopt it. The short story is as follows: the International Snowboarding Federation (ISF) was formed in 1991 and began holding world championships in 1992. FIS recognized snowboarding as a sport in 1994. The IOC recognized FIS as the official governing body. ISF ceased operations in 2002.
In a recent (February 2018) interview with Kit McConnell, sports director of the IOC, confirmed that new sports face struggle to be added to the winter programme. He highlighted a supposed gap between “popularity, participation and global audiences” in the seven sports currently on the Winter Olympic programme with all the others currently lobbying to be added. In the meantime, seven new events were added to existing sports like women’s monobob and freestyle skiing big air that clearly tick the boxes for popularity and participation.
Interesting to note that the sports director of the IOC mentioned only three sports as possible contenders: ski mountaineering, bandy, and ice climbing. Ski orienteering did not even get a mention as a sport knocking on the doors of the Winter Games. Apparently, the IOF Presidential decision to spend over the budget on the SportAccord Convention starting from 2013 to promote ski orienteering for the Winter Games fizzled out with zero impact. The good news is that ski orienteering is not threatened by being incorporated into FIS in the foreseeable future.
Summer Youth Games – Dakar 2022
Obviously, inclusion in the Youth Olympic Games would not carry the same prestige (not to talk about financial benefits) as the real thing, yet the IOF leadership unexpectedly set it as a target in 2016. As mentioned above, inclusion in the YOG was set as a key outcome and failed predictably.
The 2022 Summer Youth Olympic Games will be held in Dakar, Senegal. It is not a particularly orienteering friendly place. Senegal is not member of the IOF. It is difficult to see anybody jumping on the table to support the inclusion of orienteering.
The programme selection for the YOG 2022 is also a murky process. The news from October 2018 suggests that the core 28 sports (or their youth versions) will feature in Senegal. No mention of optional sports.
Considering the predictable organising challenges in a smallish, but poor country with GDP $1000 per capita, it would be a miracle if the IOC would add a completely new, locally unknown sport to the programme.
Winter Youth Games – TBD 2024
The IOF tried to get ski orienteering into the 2020 YOG in Lausanne. As shown in the Council meeting minutes of January 2017 (#183), the result was a polite no “due to financial pressures” right after the first attempts to raise the question. Apparently the IOC pays the travel costs to the host city and room and board for the athletes and judges.
Interesting to note that unexpectedly ski mountaineering, a non olympic sport, and mixed-nationality(!) 3×3 ice hockey tournament was also included in the 2020 YOG programme in July 2017 by the decision of IOC Executive Board. Clearly, financial pressure is not uniform across sports.
The location of the 2024 Winter YOG will be decided in June 2019. So far only Bulgaria has indicated significant interest, but Argentina, China and Romania may also put in a bid. It is difficult to see that any other location than Sofia would push for ski orienteering, and it is rather unlikely that the voice of the local organiser will have meaningful weight considering the financing model of the YOG.
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After this review of details it is difficult to imagine that the Olympic inclusion tasks of the 2018-2020 Action Plan presented to the General Assembly 3 months ago would deliver any meaningful result. It makes you wonder whether it was presented by the Council based on the review of the above details, or based on the confidence provided by the lack of detailed analysis.
After all, it seems that of all orienteering disciplines Virtual Orienteering may have the best chance to get into the Olympics. I will write about the interesting developments in esports in a separate post.