There will be no orienteering in Paris on the Olympics in 2024. No surprise there.
The interesting bit is how the IOF leadership (did not) communicate the non-delivery of a key objective of their Goal 2020, a target recommended by the IOF leadership to the General Assembly. It was a “no event”. After the failed Paris 2024 bid the CEO of the World Squash Federation resigned. Even the World Flying Disc Federation started serious soul searching.
According to my psychologist friend, the deep silence around the failure to deliver on a key objective may suggest that either the IOF leadership so strongly believed in success that now they are in complete denial, or that they did not believe at all that it was deliverable, so failure is no news.
Yet, for whatever reason, the situation made me remember the old Russian joke about Napoleon’s admiration of Pravda, the newspaper of the Soviet Communist Party.
The Olympic ambition
The Olympic ambition is a core component of the IOF’s strategy as discussed before. This is nothing new. According to the research of Heinz Tschudin, the late President of the IOF, the Olympic dream has been around for 75 years. It has preceded even the foundation of the IOF.
What’s new, is that it has become the Main Goal of the IOF, and not only at a conceptual level. Not only did the Vice President show the door to IOF activists who did not believe in the Olympic Dream before a discussion on IOF strategy in 2017, but very specific targets pop up in IOF documents, like in Goal 2020 – proposed by the IOF leadership to the General Assembly in October 2018 (and duly approved by the GA, as usual).
So what happened?
Failure to deliver
In February 2019, just a few months after the General Assembly approved Goal 2020, thus the effort to be included in Paris 2024, the Paris organisers announced their selection of optional sports: breaking, skateboarding, sport climbing, and surfing. Game over for orienteering on Paris 2024.
#1 point in Goal 2020 for the Olympic Ambition of the IOF was a fail in just over 4 months after its approval.
Breaking is a particularly interesting choice for Paris 2024. It has come completely out of the blue for most observers who expected some of the more traditional French sports, like boules, or something more universally popular, like squash. It is also interesting for us, because it represents a sport that is placed pretty much diagonally opposite from orienteering in the landscape of all sports.
It seems that the IOC is really pushing for a shift in the Olympic games as stated in the IOC press release above: “Building on the reforms of Olympic Agenda 2020, the IOC has been striving to make the Olympic programme gender-balanced, more youth-focused and more urban.”
For the avoidance of doubt, Paris 2024 here refers only to the Summer Games. The IOF did not even submit an application for Trail-O being considered for the Paralympic Games Paris 2024.
The #2 point in Goal 2020 of the Olympic Ambition, i.e. inclusion to Youth Olympic Games 2022 looked just as ambitious, because it was known that the IOC Executive Board declared their strong preference to see these games organised in Africa already in February 2018. Just a couple of days after the IOF General Assembly, it was announced that Dakar, Senegal, will host YOG 2022. The sports director of the IOC quickly communicated that the 28 core Olympic sports will form the program.
Considering both the African location, and that breaking, skateboarding, and sport climbing will all have a strong case to be included along the core 28 sports, it seems that orienteering have rather limited chances to be selected for YOG Dakar 2022.
The last specific point in Goal 2020 of the Olympic Ambition, YOG Winter 2024 is still open though, for the simple reason that even the host city has not been selected yet.
Very limited communication
In stark contrast to the Strategic Directions and Focus Areas, that are seldom read by the average orienteer, not to talk about outsiders, there is very little IOF communication about the actual effort to deliver on the Olympic Ambition.
The IOF website does not bring up anything relevant about the Paris 2024 effort neither for the search word Paris, nor for Olympics.
One has to dig into the Council minutes to find a few snippets of information on a fairly substantial work after a slow start in 2017 to prepare a bid, make presentations, and meet important people.
Council meeting #187 – January 2018
Council meeting #190 – August 2018
Council meeting #191 – October 2018
Council meeting #193 – January 2019
Council meeting #194 – April 2019
and after all that effort, the result was acknowledged in just half a sentence:
“unfortunately a few days later it was revealed that orienteering was not shortlisted for inclusion”
After all that effort, not a hint of soul searching, or just a note that something needs to be reconsidered about the Olympic Dream.
After the failed Paris 2024 bid the CEO of the World Squash Federation resigned. Even the World Flying Disc Federation started soul searching “hope to learn lessons from Paris 2024 rejection”.
A psychologist friend I talked to had a feeling that either the IOF leadership was so shocked that they did not succeed, that now they are in deep denial. Or, they never thought that there was any chance to get into the Olympics, and now just quietly acknowledged the situation as “no news”.
Either way, the very limited extent of public communication (only in Council minutes) by the IOF leadership around Paris 2024 is in stark contrast with all the emphasis they put on the Olympic Ambition in the 2018 General Assembly documents, and all the effort that went into the overall process.
Is there any reason for this imbalance between communication to the IOF General Assembly and the general orienteering public?
Napoleon and the Pravda
Somehow, while searching for IOF communication on the Paris 2024 goal, I remembered the old Russian joke I heard back in the 1980s:
Alexander the Great, Hannibal and Napoleon are watching the Soviet military parade on the Red Square.
Alexander sighs looking at the Airborne Guard Battalions marching:
“If I had committed troops like these, nobody could have stopped me in the East!”
Hannibal sighs watching the tanks rolling through the square:
“If I had tanks like these, instead of elephants, nobody in Rome could have stopped me!”
Napoleon in the back sighs reading the Pravda, the newspaper of the Communist Party:
“If I had a newspaper like this, nobody would have heard about Waterloo!”