On 24 February Sunday evening I received an email from Bob Dredge, the Chair of the IOF Ethics Panel informing me about an Ethical Panel procedure related to my blog post on IOF Anti-Doping activity questions published on 25 September 2018.
For the avoidance of misunderstanding, it should be clearly stated that the subject of the Ethics Panel procedure was not the IOF’s Anti-Doping activity. Nor were there any issues raised around the facts and data mentioned in the blog post. The Ethics Panel is considering if any breach of the IOFs Code of Ethics has resulted from certain not specified comments.
Before reading on I would like to encourage you to read the original post as linked above. If you do not have time for the 1350 or so words and 5 charts, you may want to know that essence of the post is as follows: There appeared to be a drop in IOF AD testing in 2018 compared to previous years. This was shown for MTBO, but anecdotal evidence from elite runners suggested a similar trend in Foot-O. Yet, there was more money collected for the IOF AD fund from MTBO organisers in addition to the athletes’ licence fee collected. As a result, the implied cost of the MTBO AD tests skyrocketed over the past 3 years as shown on the chart below. This has raised unavoidable questions whether AD tests got so much more expensive, whether part of the AD fund was spent on other purposes by the IOF than AD testing, and whether there will be member federations who would ask questions about this.
Nobody should take an IOF Ethics Panel procedure lightly. After all, the Ethics Panel may impose sanctions for violations of the IOF Code of Ethics that include exclusion for life from competitions and/or IOF activities, an appropriate fine, or removal of any previously obtained honours, or any other appropriate sanction that the Hearing Panel decides (with no stated limit to what that could be).
This may sound quite scary for many. After all, nobody enjoys being the subject of a legal procedure. Yet, you may become curious about the whole experience, if you are a bit like Desperaux the brave little mouse, who failed to learn in school that there are so many wonderful things in life to be afraid of, if you just learn how scary they are. Add to this that the flavour of our times is to share our experiences on social media for the edification of others, and my belief that transparency is critically important to amateur sports organisations like the IOF. All this made me decide to share this experience on this blog.
Below you can read the original letter received from the Chair of the IOF Ethics Panel, some of the key questions related to his email that made me scratch my head, and my reply to the letter of the Chair.
Letter from the Chair of the IOF Ethics Panel
Here is a copy of the letter received on 24 February 2019.
Questions, questions, questions …
Nobody should take an IOF Ethics Panel procedure lightly, as I asserted above. One has to carefully read and try to understand any letter received from the Chair. Unfortunately, careful reading and an attempt to understand it may lead to a long list of questions both about its content and the legal context of the IOF’s Code of Ethics. The broader topic of the Code and its context is rather substantial, so I may devote a separate blog post to that. Here I share three questions about the content of the letter received.
Before getting into details I have to stress that I keep volunteers of international orienteering in high respect. They spend their free time to work for the general good of orienteering as IOF officials, organisers and event advisors. Been there, done that, and still doing it myself. Yet, when our work leaves room for improvement, we shall ask questions to try to figure out together how do things better.
What is the accusation?
Upon reading the above letter one may notice that a key element missing: a specific and clear description of the accusation and clarifying the source of the accusation. There is reference to “certain comments” and to “some potentially damaging comments aimed specifically at certain IOF officials”, but without clearly stating what were those comments and who they were aimed at.
Yet, the request of the Chair of the Ethics Panel asks for “substantive and verifiable factual evidence” without clearly stating the issue and the source of accusation.
This may give a feel of a medieval procedure: “The Lords may have been offended by your actions. State your defence!”
Roman Law already guaranteed persons accused the right to look in the eye of their accusers. In modern times (at least since 1791, when the 6th Amendment of the US constitution was ratified), the defendant has the right to be informed of what he is accused of and by whom. I have a vague feeling that relevant English law might have preceded the US version, just do not have time to look it up. In any case, in the 21st century it is rather strange to see an accusation worded so vaguely in an official procedure.
Without specifying the accusation, clearly relating it to a possible offence, and clarifying who the accuser is, a legal procedure may risk not achieving the high standards expected from a similar procedure.
Comment or claim or something else?
The lack of clarity manifests itself not only in the lack of specific accusation. The wording may be clear for a native speaker, but for non-native speakers – like most of us – it may get confusing, even with the help of the Cambridge Dictionary.
First, the letter refers to “comments”, like “certain comments […] concerning allegations” and “potentially damaging comments”. According to the Cambridge Dictionary a “comment” is something that you say or write that expresses your opinion.
Yet, the letter asks for “substantive and verifiable factual evidence to support your claims”. According to the Cambridge Dictionary a “claim” is a statement that something is true or is a fact, although other people might not believe it.
So, was it an opinion or a statement about something being true or a fact that caused all the issues? It may be obvious for a native speaker, but leaves us non-native speakers guessing what is the intended message. Combined with the lack of specific accusation this gives a feeling of vagueness that, in return, does not inspire confidence in the starting procedure.
While I count myself as one of the admirers of the beauty of the English language, not least because of its lexical richness, in procedures of an international amateur sport organisation dominated by non-native speakers, we may elect to build on another special virtue of the English language: simplicity.
The post in question was published on 25 September 2018, exactly 5 months before the Chair contacted me regarding this procedure. We may presume that the Ethics Panel decided to launch a procedure now because they received a report recently.
The WordPress platform this blog is hosted on provides some statistics regarding viewership of each post. There were hundreds of readers of the post in question in September and October, but apparently neither of them raised a question about the post being too close to the line.
I also know both from direct and indirect communication that members of the IOF leadership are also following my blog, or at a minimum, being informed whenever there is an interesting post. Yet, no negative feedback was given for 5 months after the publication, neither public, nor private feedback. None of the hundreds of readers raised the issue that there was something inappropriately worded in the post, neither friend, nor foe.
The post received only 4 views in January, and 5 views in February before the email of the Chair of the Ethics Panel. This is a typical lifecycle of these type of posts. Yet it seems that there was somebody amongst these very few readers who felt that the content was so outrageous that it had to be reported to the Ethics Panel.
This just looks strange. If hundreds of people, including at least part of the IOF leadership, did not raise any issue 5 months ago, what could have triggered an ethical investigation now?
Reply to the letter received
Here is the verbatim copy of the letter I sent on 28 February 2019 to the Chair of the IOF Ethics Panel.
I was somewhat surprised to receive an email from you as the Chair of the IOF Ethics Panel about a possible breach of the IOF’s Code of Ethics related to my blog post on IOF Anti-Doping activity questions that you linked.
If I understand correctly, a report of a possible ethical violation was filed with the IOF Office or directly with the Ethics Panel. In your email you refer to “certain comments that have been attributed to you on Social Media concerning allegations of misuse of IOF Anti-Doping Funds” and “some potentially damaging comments aimed specifically at certain IOF officials”.
Unfortunately, your email does not state clearly in any way what comments were made concerning what allegations, and what comments could be considered as potentially damaging, and which certain IOF Officials were they specifically aimed at. In addition, I could not find any specific statement about the nature of the possible breach of the IOF Code of Ethics that has resulted from these comments beyond a blanket reference to the four Ethical Principles.
To ensure that I fully understand the specifics of the allegations of a possible breach of the IOF Code of Ethics, could you please share the following?
· The original report received by the Ethics Panel
· The exact wording of the “certain comments that have been attributed to you on Social Media concerning allegations of misuse of IOF Anti-Doping Funds”
· The exact wording of the “some potentially damaging comments aimed specifically at certain IOF officials”
Without understanding the specifics of the alleged violation of the IOF Code of Ethics, and in particular, without clarity regarding which comments they are related to, I believe we can agree that it is impossible to formulate a meaningful reply on any ethical matter.
I would also like to ask you to forward me the IOF Code of Ethics that was in force on 25 September 2018 when the blog post was published, the one at the time of the alleged breach (whenever that may have happened), and the one that you consider to be relevant for the procedure you contemplate. Considering the changing nature of these documents this could ensure that there are no misunderstandings regarding the versions used.
I would also like to ask you to forward me the Procedural Rules for managing any possible ethical violations. I believe that you agree that clear procedural rules form one of the key guarantees of fairness in any legal procedure. In particular, it would be important to understand what would constitute “substantive and verifiable factual evidence” that you request, what are the rights of the parties involved, what are the time limitations of parties at each step of the process, and who bears the costs incurred during this procedure, especially when a formal Panel Hearing is held.
Finally, I would like to express my trust that you also consider transparency as a key virtue for an amateur sport organisation like the IOF. Thus, I also trust that you fully support the idea that I will share this correspondence and all subsequent developments of this process on my blog.
I look forward to hearing from you in the near future.
I just received a reply from the Chair of the Ethics Panel before publishing this post, within 24 hours of my reply sent above. He informed me that he would look into the many points of facts and detail raised above over the next few days, so that he could get a full answer to me, hopefully by the middle of next week. In his reply there were no issues raised about my intention stated above to share this correspondence and subsequent developments of this process on this blog.
I will keep you posted on further developments.