The IOF maintains Zero Tolerance against doping in orienteering, and rightly so. Yet, until the outcry after the Unfortunate Events in China, Fair Play was treated with near Zero Sensitivity by the IOF leadership. In fact, reduced attention to Fair Play was (is?) seen as an acceptable price for the IOF’s Olympic Dream and more media friendly strategy.
In practice Fair Play violations means some form of “information doping”, including not only knowledge of the terrain, but also information from spectators and other athletes (for example following a better one). Biophysical doping is close to non existent in orienteering, while “information doping” in different forms is prevalent.
The impact on results could be just as significant, and often even bigger when it comes to information doping. No chemical doping would have helped an athlete to get a World Championship medal after losing 4 minutes to the winner on the first 20% of a course simply on orienteering speed, without a major mistake.
My recent post on Orienteering Fair Play in Practice has received lots of attention, and become one of the four most read posts on this blog within a week. I also received some very interesting private messages on the extent of the Fair Play Problem.
One thought that has emerged from the follow up discussions was that Fair Play violations are often similar to Anti Doping violations. Some comments pointed out the similarity between the Anti-Doping and Fair Play attitudes amongst elite athletes, the emergence of a subculture within some orienteering athletes on “information doping” that is quite similar in its approach to the one used by athletes using doping in doping infested sports, like road cycling.
“If others are doing everything they can get away with to gain some advantage, I should also do everything I can get away with – just to stay competitive!”
And when it comes to Fair Play in Orienteering, one can get away with a lot even in front of the IOF leadership, as discussed in the examples in my recent post. Well, a lot if you are not from an “uncivilised” new nation.
Seeing that the scandal of the Unfortunate Events in China was too big to be ignored, the communication of the IOF was squarely focused on Fair play and major events in new orienteering countries. The CEO of the IOF stressed that “I personally have been too naïve in believing that the strong ethical value of fair play which we have in orienteering as I know it, are automatically transmitted to new orienteering nations and across cultures.”
Yet, the prevalence of Fair Play problems in orienteering was confirmed by one of the slides of the IOF’s Fair Play survey.
Could they all refer to the Fair Play issues of “uncivilised” new nations?
Or is this a confirmation that Fair Play violations are endemic amongst elite athletes?
Can you imagine the IOF’s reaction if this survey was about Anti-Doping violations?
Athletes are protected from Anti-Doping violations by Zero Tolerance and substantial resources invested on deterrent checks. There was very little communicated by the IOF on Fair Play during the past 8 months since China, other than hoping that education on Fair Play will solve the problem. As if Fair Play violations happen for the lack of knowledge of athletes, coaches and organisers.
No proper investigation, no analysis on the root causes, no Zero Tolerance approach.
The General Assembly documents include nice words and a general approach based on education. Not a hint about the need to look at the basics, like the impact of the IOF’s Olympic and media focused strategy on Fair Play.
Athletes who saw (near) Zero Sensitivity to Fair Play violations until China may be rightly sceptical about the effectiveness of an IOF “educational tool” to protect the ones who follow Fair Play rules when the practice is just the opposite.
“It is not nice to show the competitor the control in a city sprint, but if you do, we will not say a word.”
“It is not nice to win a World Championship medal by following, but if you do, we will congratulate you for the result.”
“It is not nice to run the World Championship final as favourite on a map that you surveyed a couple of years ago, but if you do, we will look away.”
Isn’t it time to get more serious about Fair Play and “information doping” in orienteering and look deeper into this problem?
Or would it be enough if the “uncivilised” new nations get some formal education?