Is Live Orienteering Dead?

I did not plan to write another post this week, but my attention was called to a new development that may be of interest of the delegates to the General Assembly meeting in Prague this weekend.

Live Orienteering.com redirects to Cleeng, a commercial video streaming provider for live streaming and to the event website for results, all with a somewhat cryptic message: “due to the problems with payments and access to the IOF LIVE Orienteering platform”.

The core functionalities of liveorienteering.com do not work: the pay per view and the one-stop result services, that is, the objectives why it was built and then completely rebuilt after 2 years with high expenses and lots of management time involved.

After all the above, it is just a little added colour that the “free of charge” event costs €6 per day if you want to see it.

LiveOrienteering - FootO WorldCup Round 4

Problems with Live Orienteering are nothing new. Last year it struggled with the WOC and the first round of the World Cup. This year I did not follow its performance, but I heard various comments about its non-reliable performance.

All this makes you wonder: is this the beginning of the end for Live Orienteering? Will the IOF Leadership abandon its venture into the money-sink of IT platform development?

In any case, here are some cornerstones for the Obituary of Live Orienteering based on Council minutes:

  • January 2014 (Point 23, Council minutes #168) – Leho presented the idea of the IOF LiveCentre to the Council as the platform for pay per view services. The cost of development was not mentioned, but rumour says that it was in the tens of thousands of euros with hundreds of hours of management time added.
  • October 2015 (Point 27, Council minutes #176) – the proposal to create a new digital platform (that is to replace the recently developed LiveCentre) with a hint about “cost-of- ownership issues, i.e. support and content management costs”.  In plain English that means that the original development was not thought through beyond the initial enthusiasm.
  • June 2016 (Point 28, Council minutes #179) “A beta test version could be expected for JWOC and WOC internal testing. […] The contract with the vendor of the current LiveCenter had been extended until November 30th, 2016 to guarantee a functioning LiveCenter for WOC.” – sounds like unexpected delays in development.
  • July 2017 (Point 7 and 20, Council minutes #185) “LIVE Orienteering had been released and it was noted that quality still needed to be improved. […] Council briefly discussed LIVE Orienteering status and noted that investments needed to continue and primarily to improve the reliability of the platform.” (that is, the platform still did not work, see also some screenshots here)
  • January 2018 (Point 10.3, Council minutes #187) “Investments were to be made in the development of Eventor, LIVE Orienteering and an update to the IOF webpage.” (that is, even more money was required)
  • June 2018 (Point 7, Council minutes #189) “3 issues were found during the use of LIVE Orienteering at EOC. 2 of the issues were solved early in the week, but one issue in the livestream.com platform remained unsolved. Focus now is on securing the performance for WOC.”  (sounds like more money needed)
  • October 2018 – Live Orienteering does not work at all as a platform for pay per view live streaming.

 

Looks like the perfect showcase for the IOF’s workings and an explanation for the financial performance of the IOF. It looks like lots of money and lots of management time (also an expense)  wasted with very little to show for.

Will there be questions from Member Federations on the General Assembly about how much money and human resources were spent on Live Orienteering, and the reasons that it looks like an abandoned venture?

75 years chasing Olympic Glory

The biennial General Assembly of the IOF takes place this weekend in Prague. Whoever attended these events before, or at least heard eyewitness reports, knows that it is very unlikely that anything unexpected would happen. There could be a handful of Member Federations who may try to throw a pebble into the quiet pond, but those attempts typically get attenuated by the quiet passivity of the majority, or by the deflecting tactics of the IOF Leadership. It is very, very unlikely that serious debate would take place on the General Assembly around questions of financials or anti-doping activity, no matter how much delegates may gossip about those questions over a beer or two.

I still hope though, that a Member Federation, or the IOF Leadership themselves may raise their voice to correct a very unfortunate oversight in the Strategic Directions and Focus Areas for the Congress Period 2018-2020 regarding the Olympic Ambition as quoted below (original in is in the Congress Binder):

AMBITION: TO BE INCLUDED IN THE OLYMPIC AND PARALYMPIC GAMES
Goal 2020:
✓ Inclusion as an optional sport for the Olympic Games in Paris 2024,
✓ Inclusion as an optional sport to Youth Olympic Games 2022 (FootO) and 2024 (SkiO)
✓ Be elected or appointed to a position in one of our stakeholder organisations

So far this is part of the usual General Assembly process that got established over the past two decades or so. The Council includes “Olympic Ambition” in the strategic plan. The General Assembly approves everything proposed by the Council with no modification. And from then on, the IOF leadership pushes the Olympic Dream, because “we have no choice; that is the mandate given by the GA; we cannot modify it; etc, etc.”

Funnily, this moral stance of  fully respecting General Assembly decisions is not observed when the President and the Council regularly modify the approved budget, even within 2 months of its approval. But that is another story.

The point of this post is to call attention to the following oversight in the 2018-2020 plan:

2019 marks the 75th year anniversary of the endeavour to include orienteering in the Olympic Games. The first negotiations with the IOC on orienteering began back in 1944, even though the IOF was not established until 1961.

This somewhat surprising, but nevertheless heartwarming information comes from the article of Heinz Tschudin, the late President of the IOF. In 1992 he published an article in Orienteering World titled Orienteering and the Olympics. I could not get a copy of the original, but here you can read a reprint published in Orienteering Canada in 1992.

Orienteering and the Olympics (1of2) - OrienteeringCanada_Newsletter_1992_Vol20_No2_FallOrienteering and the Olympics (2of2) - OrienteeringCanada_Newsletter_1992_Vol20_No2_Fall

It would be really interesting to see more information on this fact unearthed by Heinz Tschudin. It does sound strange at first sight, as we know that in 1944 majority of Europe was somewhat distracted from discussing future Olympic programmes. Yet, if we consider that in 1944 Sigfrid Edström, a Swede was the acting president of the IOC, and that SOFT, the Swedish Orienteering Federation, was already founded 1938, the story starts to look plausible. It would be fascinating to see more details on this either from the notes left by Heinz, or from the the SOFT or IOC archives.

This 26 year old article of Heinz provides superb insights into the process of trying to get  orienteering into the Olympics. I will discuss those under separate cover. Yet, I would like to call your attention to the point Heinz made about the core question he faced when tried to negotiate with the organisers of the 1982 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary:

How much money will you bring in?

36(!) years passed, but the IOF Leadership has not even tried to answer this core question that is required just to start the discussion about getting on the Olympic programme. Without a solid financial basis all the talk about Olympic Ambitions feels rather empty.

But now let’s focus on the many unique opportunities offered by this 75th anniversary, as listed below. It would be a major mistake not to use this occasion for the promotion of orienteering and the IOF’s Olympic Ambition.

Continue reading “75 years chasing Olympic Glory”

IOF Financials – the past is dark, the future is unclear

With this post I would like to give the confidence to the representatives of Member Federations before the vote on the 2019-20 budget on the IOF General Assembly next weekend. I know that for people with no finance background it often looks like a daunting task to interpret financial statements and have confidence in their decision. So I would like to assure them that based on the IOF’s track record for the past 10 years, and especially for the past 2 years since the 2016 General Assembly, their vote doesn’t matter.

No matter how Members Federations vote, the IOF Leadership will spend the money the way they want, independent of the GA approved budget.

In this post I will quickly review the past, present and future of IOF finances as presented on recent General Assemblies.

Continued historic underperformance

The publication of the 2017 results and the forecast for the 2018 published in the Congress Binder have confirmed the remarkable feat achieved:

The IOF Leadership has missed the budget target set by themselves for 10 years in a row.

I wrote about this earlier here and here, the numbers published for the 2018 General Assembly just confirmed the expectations.

Ten years underperformance - Sept 2018

Not only the continued underperformance against their own budget targets set by themselves may come close to a Guinness Record, but the results were poor also in absolute terms.

The IOF has lost a total of €114,000 since 2009, and €38,500 since 2013.

Ignoring the approved budget looks like a recently established culture of the IOF Presidents. It started under Åke with unpublished promotions that very likely had budgetary impact, continued by Brian just informing the Council that he decided to overstep the approved budget to fund an exhibition on the SportAccord convention, and continued further by Leho who started to revise the 2017 budget already in October 2016, within two months after its approval (as discussed below).

Complete wipe out of the 2016 GA promises

Leho, as freshly elected President promised a period of plenty on the 2016 General Assembly, with highly profitable years coming starting from 2016. The result resembled the words of Chernomyrdin, the late Russian Prime Minister:

We wanted to do it better, but the outcome was the usual

Results 2016-18

For the avoidance of doubt, the plus zero result (or 0.2% of the promised total profit of the total of three years 2016-18) was not due to spending all the money on development projects. The reason for underperformance were the complete misjudgement of revenues, and overspend on some expenses, like the World Games (€10,000 planned, €29,306 spent in 2017).

Unfortunately, this poor state of IOF financials contributes to the bad feeling that there was an incentive for the IOF leadership to spend monies collected for anti-doping activities of the IOF differently than the original intention.

Continue reading “IOF Financials – the past is dark, the future is unclear”

IOF Anti-Doping activity questions

(This post has been updated with information received from the Portuguese organisers of the 2016 World MTBO Championships. The updates are shown in the text in blue)

I always believed that the anti-doping fight was too important a matter to be left to the anti-doping officers, to paraphrase Clemenceau’s famous assertion that war is too important a matter to be left to the generals.

Yet, I always found it difficult to have a meaningful discussion about it with Brian and the Council when I was the Chair of the MTBO Commission. Their argument was, of course, that anti-doping matters are highly confidential. That is obviously a very relevant point regarding specific tests, but I could never figure out the reason for their reluctance to discuss anti-doping strategy and finance. Were they hiding their lack of understanding and unwillingness to learn about the topic? Or were they simply reluctant to engage in meaningful discussions?

To the deepest regret of most top managers, questions do not disappear just because they do not want to talk about them. This applies also to the IOF’s anti-doping activity, and the more one scratches the surface the more questions pop up. In this post I will share with you some observations that suggests that all is not well. I have more facts about MTBO for the simple reason that I talk to most athletes and organisers in that discipline, but both anecdotal evidence and data available suggests that there are similar questions across all disciplines of the IOF.

Fewer AD tests

There was a sharp drop in the number of AD tests for MTBO athletes commissioned by the IOF. There is no official data available, but MTBO is a  small community (a bit like FootO was in the 80s and 90s), and people talk to each other.

IOF MTBO anti-doping tests - updated

 

Some explanation: OOC stands for out of competition, IC stands for in competition. The peak in 2016 was achieved in a hybrid year of financing when the IOF leadership introduced flat taxes (or “donations”, as they call it), instead of  just surprising the organisers on the event by the number of AD tests to be paid for. The Portuguese World Championship organisers were asked if they wanted to pay the then newly set fee of €4000 according to the new AD financing system, or pay for the tests as requested by the IOF according to the old system. Knowing that typical number of tests requested would  cost less than €4000, the Portuguese elected to pay themselves. They had the pleasure to pay for a record number of 27 AD tests on 18 athletes, far the highest ever requested by the IOF on a single World MTBO Championships. That cost the Portuguese organisers at around €6500, including doctors’ fee. There was a strong feeling that the IOF took advantage of the situation that the Portuguese elected to go by the old system. This feeling of being taken advantage of was strengthened, when both in 2017 and 2018 the IOF paid only for 8 tests (i.e. less then third that of ordered in 2016) on the World MTBO Championships, despite collecting a record amount of €5000 and €5500 from the organisers.

Anecdotal evidence from FootO elite athletes suggests that recently there was also a sharp drop in AD tests on major FootO events.

Unfortunately, the hard facts available also point to the same directions. The number of athletes in the IOF Registered Testing Pool has dropped by over 60% in 2 years. The number of FootO athletes dropped from 8 to 3 between 2016 and 2018. These are the athletes who have to report their whereabouts in WADA’s ADAMS system, that is, these are the athletes who can get an out of competition AD tests ordered by the IOF. You may find the lists of the registered athletes here.

 

IOF registered testing pool

But this is not the end of the story.

Continue reading “IOF Anti-Doping activity questions”

World Orienteering Day – fewer organisers in 2018

This was a busy summer. I had no time to write proper posts. I had to help more than expected to organise the European and World Masters MTBO Championship, went to the World MTBO Championship, and also spent lots of time mapping and then organising the Isle of Man Orienteering Championships (and even done some proper work on the side).

Now it is time to get back to this blog, as there is a long list of topics waiting to be published from concluding the WOD quatrology to a more in-depth look into the history of the IOF Leadership’s Olympic ambitions.

*  –  *  –  *

The announcement on the IOF website on the final numbers of the World Orienteering Day is rather subdued compared to in previous years. Not only the “World record” focused communication is gone, but there was little celebration compared to previous years. For good reasons.

The overblown targets of 500,000 participants on 5000 events in 100 countries set by the IOF leadership were missed by a wide margin from 19% to a whopping 56%. In 2018 over seven days there were even fewer events organised than in 2017 on a single day!

The Council, unsurprisingly, did not flinch in the face of defeat. There is no hint in the Council minutes #189 and #190 that they tried to understand the reasons for missing their own targets by a wide margin, figure out why organisers were not interested in WOD activities, or alter their approach other than setting the 500,000 target now for 2020 in the strategic directions (see the congress binder). As a reminder, “Let’s reach together half a million participants during WOD in 2017!” was the call of Leho for a single day event. We could get nowhere near even over a week in 2018.

One may even get the feeling as if IOF volunteers are expected to behave like Boxer, the  hardworking naive horse, who would never question the direction set by Napoleon, but believes that any problem can be solved if he works harder. In the meantime, the numbers suggest that there is a yawning gap between reality and the ambitions of the IOF leadership.

WOD countries -3

WOD events -3

WOD participants -3

WOD by country

The targets were missed by a wide margin. Even these numbers are hinging primarily on Turkey that delivered almost quarter of all participants, just a little bit less than the next three countries, Norway, Russia and Sweden combined. Unfortunately, Turkey does not have the orienteering traditions that could make these impressive numbers sustainable without strong central will. If Turkish organisers lose interest, WOD numbers will collapse.

Continue reading “World Orienteering Day – fewer organisers in 2018”

IOF’s World Orienteering Day website on the wrong side of the law

A reader of this blog has called my attention that something looks rather odd with the website of the World Orienteering Day (WOD). The volunteers who sign up cannot opt out from being included on mailing lists that are probably marketing oriented. I asked some legal experts of this field, and they confirmed that the WOD website is on the wrong side of the law, at least in Europe.

According to the lawyers with expertise in internet and data protection, the WOD website blatantly violates the Europe level law of GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the EU), coming into effect on 25 May. I dutifully passed this information on the IOF’s President and CEO, since they are the ones responsible for the lawful operations of the IOF.

According to the lawyers, the website also violates current EU guidelines on internet data use, thus chances are that it also violates existing Swedish laws, but they did not have time to dig into that. After all, it does not really matter. The big issue is whether the website complies the law coming into power on 25 May.

The GDPR requires that not only the current WOD website should be changed, but all data collected on the current website in a non-GDPR compliant way should be deleted before 25 May. All names, phone numbers, email addresses should go, unless explicit consent is obtained, one by one, from the volunteers signed up so far.

WOD_consent_form annotated

The current website forces consent from volunteers in a very deceiving way by showing a pre-checked tick box to accept that the user is included on mailing lists for information from the IOF and its partners. The above picture shows the deceiving check box. The little “forbidden” sign at the base of the cursor indicates that the box is frozen. It cannot be unchecked.  In addition, there is nothing to clarify what “relevant information” may mean.

All this does not look like an accidental mistake, but it gives the feeling of a premeditated deception showing the look of a legally compliant request for permission, while it does not give the legally required choice to the user.

This is bad news.

Unfortunately, it is not surprising.

The IOF leadership has a rich track record of doing and tolerating practices that may raise serious questions. I shared some of these stories in earlier posts here and here. Judging by this track record there are no assurances that meaningful action will be taken. Chances are that the IOF leadership will hope to “get away” with it.

That would be worse news.

The IOF may not be in the primary focus of a GDPR audit, but the breach of the law and its apparently intentional nature is rather obvious for people involved in this subject. Although the new GDPR regulation may have been inspired by marketing practices, it is taken very seriously even by charities and voluntary organisations across Europe in their effort to redesign communication with their volunteers. For example, the RNLI, a charity where I am involved as a volunteer crew member, has made it very clear to each and every of its members that compliance with GDPR is taken very seriously across the organisation both in internal and external communications. The RNLI has an almost 200 year long history with a reputation and social respect head and shoulders above all sports organisations.  Yet, they did not try to “get away” with ignoring the law. Maybe, that is one of the reasons why they have a far superior reputation.

The EU has significantly increased the fines on data protection related matters. Violation of the GDPR  carries serious legal, financial and reputational risk. The fines are several magnitude higher than they were previously: up to €20 million if there has been an infringement of the basic principles, including conditions of consent and data subjects’ rights, i.e. the exact situation with the WOD website. Compare this to the so far record fine of £400,000 for data protection violation in the UK. Apparently the regulators across the EU got pissed off by various entities who tried to “get away” with violating the law.

Needless to stay that even 1% of that maximum fine of €20 million could be lethal to the IOF in its current, rather shaky financial condition.

Is it worth the risk?

*   *   *

Below you may read more details on the nature of the WOD website’s violation of the GDPR. A more detailed description of the situation and an assessment whether it was more likely an accidental mistake or a deliberate deception of the user.

Continue reading “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

In my last post about World Orienteering Day I expressed my doubts that anybody outside the IOF is really interested in the World Orienteering Day(s) for achieving another “World Record” of most participants on a multi venue orienteering event.

But let’s assume for a moment that somebody, a potential sponsor, a journalist, or IOC official gets interested in this metric. If they start to scratch the surface of IOF propaganda, they are in for a nasty surprise: the world records claimed are not verified despite the original aspiration of the IOF. In addition, the underlying numbers show failing participation masked by the unbelievably large numbers from Turkey.

The failed aspiration

People interested in offbeat world records traditionally look for the Guinness World Records as guidance. People looking for an independent confirmation of a verified orienteering participation record are in for a surprise:

The verified world record for most participants belong to a 2003 school event by the Swiss Orienteering Association, not to the WOD 2016 or 2017 as claimed by IOF press releases.

WOD - Guiness - full window

(see the above link here)

The IOF was of course aware of this record. In December 2015 it clearly stated that
“In connection with the World Orienteering Day 2016, the IOF has a vision to set a new Guinness World Record. The current record is from the WOC 2003 in Switzerland, when 207,979 young people at 1381 locations ran an orienteering course. “. 

The IOF leadership set out to break the Guinness World Record, but failing it just kept boasting with an “IOF” World Record. Just another example of the IOF propaganda claiming results even when they fail their own aspirations.

WOD IOF World Record

It is unclear if the IOF has actually tried to break the official Guinness World Record, but did not succeed with verification, or did not even try to deliver on its aspiration. But the aspiration was clear – and the IOF failed to achieve it. Yet, the IOF leadership kept talking about new world records both in 2016 and in 2017. Not a very sportsmanly approach, to say the least…

Of course, it is not easy to break a verified world record. Surprisingly, there are rules. Evidence required includes “For a mass participation record we require Stewards to supervise groups of 50 or fewer participants […] You need to upload all Steward Statements as part of your evidence. If your mass participation record involves more than 5,000 people, the counting process must be done by an auditing firm. etc, etc.”

So there could be very good reasons why an event like the WOD, focused more on promotion of the sport, does not attempt to achieve a verified world record. The focus of WOD should be on participation and fun, not on administration.

But then why claim new “world records”? Whom are we kidding?

Unfortunately, verification (or lack of it) is only part of the story.

Continue reading “IOF claimed new World Record after failing own aspiration to set one”