I just wanted to give you an update on this Ethics Panel investigation. Below you may find the most detailed description of the matter received so far. I also share some interesting observations about its lack of specifics, its timing, and the apparent lack of any legal ground for an Ethical Panel investigation into an article (blog post) published in (social) media.
Yet, we shall welcome the interest of the Ethics Panel into the financial and managerial practices of the IOF. A more active involvement of the Panel may help to improve the workings of the IOF to avoid even the possibility of ethical and financial scandals that marred so many international sport organisations from FIFA through IBU to the IOC.
The following reply was received from the Chair of the Ethics Panel on 8 March 2019 to my email sent on 28 February.
The 2016 version of the IOF Code of Ethics was also attached as the one in force when the post was published. You may read it here: IOF Code-of-Ethics – 2016.
For simplicity I will refer to the plaintiff as “IOF” not to disclose the person who submitted the report to the Ethics Panel.
Before getting into details below, I have to address the question about transparency under Section 7 in the letter of the Chair of the Ethics Panel. In my email on 2 April I asked him if he could provide any rules that would support his position on transparency.
“Finally, I am wondering if you could point to any rule – other than general privacy and protection of personal data – that would prohibit sharing the developments of this procedure with the readers of my blog. I could not find anything in the IOF Code of Ethics or any other IOF document. Based on the nulla poena sine lege principle I will keep posting updates on my blog with your kind understanding, unless you can point to a rule that would explicitly forbid that.”
In his reply on 3 April the Chair made no comment on this request, and I received no further correspondence. This suggests that there is no such rule that would prohibit making this procedure a transparent one.
The very point of this blog is to show everybody interested the way the IOF works, particularly when it comes to culture, strategy and finances. Ethics and transparency are part of this picture, as discussed earlier.
So let’s see the details below.
Some interesting observations
There are many things one could discuss about the points raised in this letter, but I would like to call your attention to three points: lack of specifics, apparent lack of legal ground, and a very long time to take action.
No specific question, yet demand for factual evidence
In the letter above it is clearly stated that “There is no specific single or unilateral comment that has caused the request for further information to be actioned.” To spell it out in detail:
• No data provided in the blog post was challenged
• No specific single or unilateral comment was challenged
• No specific mention of any IOF official, or any comment about their integrity was made
Yet, the demand is to “verify all or any of these allegations with clear factual evidence rather that anecdote or implication” though the Ethics Panel was not able to point at any specific allegation. It is impossible to give a factual reply to a request with no specifics.
I consulted various legal professionals and they could not identify any particular “allegation” in the blog post in question. There were questions that the IOF may find inconvenient, but ones that could be easily answered publicly by the IOF – if they wish so.
The tone of the wordings was assessed by legal professionals as being within the poetic freedom of a personal blog writing about the lack of transparency and about certain management practices around IOF financials. One may note that I wrote about the peculiarities of IOF financials umpteen times on my blog over the past two years, supported with a wide range of evidence. None of that was ever questioned or debated by the IOF.
Does this mean that the subject of the IOF report and this ethical investigation is the fact that this blog wrote about the lack of transparency of IOF AD activities and financials? Could it be unethical to write about the feeling amongst athletes that the number of IOF AD tests is apparently falling, and to raise questions on this topic?
No legal ground for Ethics procedure
Interesting, that they key point completely missed by the Ethical Panel is whether they have a jurisdiction over this matter or not. All the legal experts I have talked to pointed out that the Ethical Panel of a sports federation has no legal right to conduct a procedure over journalistic activity in media, including social media.
Apparently it was missed that the IOF Ethics panel is not a media regulator.
Persons, including legal persons, have a set procedure to complain about and seek correction to articles published in media, including blog posts published in social media. Without getting overly legalistic, this shall be started by contacting the media channel and the journalist, discussing the matter, and seeking correction to facts presented, or even requesting an opportunity to present alternative views on the matter.
The IOF has all the factual evidence about the 2016-17-18 AD numbers. The IOF has the details on how the AD fund was spent, how much was the direct cost of AD tests and how much was spent on other related expenses. Yet, the IOF never published those numbers. They decided to report the media publication to the Ethics Panel. That, in return, questions if the Ethics Panel has any basis to proceed.
The IOF never sought any correction to the blog post in question, or to any other post on this blog for that matter. One may also deduce this from the fact that the IOF had submitted their report to the Ethics Panel about the post on the 25th of September 2018, the very same day the post was published.
Everybody can have their opinion about media publications. Everybody may argue their side of the story. The audience will decide whom to believe. But initiating an ethics procedure with no legal ground and no specifics sounds not more than an attempt to use misuse the ethics procedure to silence critical voices.
The third peculiar aspect of this ethics procedure is that it took 157 days for the Ethics Panel to formulate the initial set of questions after receiving the report from the IOF. The timing was as follows based on the above letter and the Ethics Panel minutes.
- 25 Sept 2018 – blog post was published. Same day the IOF reports it to the Ethics panel. The Chair of the Panel was already aware of blog content. (I am happy to note that this confirms that this blog is followed closely by key people in the IOF.)
11 days passed
- 5 Oct 2018 – some members of the Ethics Panel discuss it informally and decide this should be handled by the new Ethics Panel
1 day passed
- 6 Oct 2018 – new Ethics Panel elected by the General Assembly – 1 new member out of 5, 4 members remain
129 days passed
- 12 Feb 2019 – Skype conference by the Ethics Panel (see minutes here), decision to request information
16 days passed
- 28 Feb 2019 – first email from the Chair of the Ethics Panel
This gives the impression that this was not considered by the Ethics Panel as a major issue requiring urgent action until very recently. Compare this with the former decisions of the Ethics Panel that you may find here where the entire(!) process from event to publishing the decision took 1/2 to 1/3 of the time than the time it took in this case just to formulate the first email.
- Case A: ~80 days to final Ethics Panel decision after the ESOC 2017 on conflict of interest in a jury decision
- Case B: ~50 days to final Ethics Panel decision after the JWOC 2018 on juniors “alternative team presentations”
- Two more Ethics Panel decisions were made related to WTOC 2017, but it is unclear how much time it took for the Ethics Panel to conclude those two procedures, because those decisions do not state the date when the Ethics Panel made their decision or when the decision published*
* To explain orienteers less involved in legal proceedings, this would be similar to a relay event when no time measured. The winner can be declared, but serious orienteers would immediately question whether the organisers know what they are doing or not. Clearly there is room for improvement for the Ethics Panel to achieve basic procedural discipline expected from a judicial body.
We may only wonder what made the Ethics Panel not taking action for 5 months after the report received and then deciding that they want to push ahead with this case after all.
A welcome interest in the IOF’s workings
I would like to stress though that even if the current investigation of the Ethics Panel appears to be missing the legal ground, we have to welcome their interest in the financial processes and managerial conduct of the IOF. On this blog one may find 20 articles related to the peculiarities of IOF finances, including but not limited to examples of a rather lax attitude towards the budget approved by the General Assembly.
I presume that the Ethical Panel is also very familiar with the fact that the traditional governance model of international sport organisations is not particularly effective in ensuring control over financial and ethical conduct of their leadership. The recent examples of high profile scandals include, but not limited to football (FIFA), athletics (IAAF), biathlon (IBU), amateur boxing (AIBA), chess (FIDE), cycling (UCI), volleyball (FIVB), weightlifting (IWF), and even the Olympic movement (IOC).
We shall be thankful that the IOF is nowhere near the above listed federations, but it is clear that its governance processes are far from being ideal. That is why it is in our common interest to ensure that we work towards a transparent culture in orienteering, where questions asked shall result in a dialogue about improving the processes and the culture of international orienteering.
I submitted to the Ethics Panel a set of finance related posts that they might find particularly interesting and that may also provide them with a perspective on the blog post they got interested in. In particular the first one might be very relevant that shows the IOF leadership’s lax attitude to the GA approved budget. In July 2017 in a letter to member federations they could not even replicate the 2017 (then current) approved budget. That attitude may well explain why the IOF could not deliver on its approved budget for 10 years in a row and ended up in a rather difficult financial situation by 2017.
Ten Years of Underperformance – Skill or Will or Something Else?
IOF Finances – on a knife edge
IOF Financials – the past is dark, the future is unclear
IOF Financials – Smoke and Mirrors
I also submitted to the Ethics Panel a set of posts related to the IOF’s management culture. They provide a wide range of examples where some may conclude that management practices of the IOF have fallen short of the high standards expected by people involved in our sport, but far from being a full list.
IOF’s World Orienteering Day website on the wrong side of the law
IOF claimed new World Record after failing own aspiration to set one
We shall hope that the Ethics Panel will have a deeper look into these and related matters instead of targeting media publications, and join the common effort to improve the workings of the IOF.