War Hate Peace

It is dangerous to talk about Peace when a barbaric mad War waged by a few results in an indiscriminate Hatred against many.

I know that I will be shot at from many sides for speaking up against indiscriminate hate instead of raging against Russians. But it is our responsibility, who live in peaceful corners of the world, to speak up against getting succumbed to hate and to try to make sense of the world. We shall try to steer things in a way that increases the chances of lasting peace instead of engrained animosity.

Putin’s plan works. The old KGB fox knows that people love to hate. Hate makes life easy: pure emotion, no cognition, no reflection. Hate makes life simple: we are good; they are wrong. Hate makes us feel good: at least we are doing something against somebody while watching unfolding horror on TV in our cosy homes.

Exclusion and hate ensure that people don’t talk to each other.
It is the antithesis of sport.

On Monday, 28 February, the IOF Council decided at an extraordinary Council meeting to immediately suspend the membership of the Russian Orienteering Federation for no other reason but for being Russian. With this decision, the IOF Council broke more than 60 years of tradition being a non-political organisation, a tradition maintained through the Cold War and numerous conflicts.

In this post, I would like to show that the IOF used to be above politics even during confrontations between member federations. Now it has become a vehicle for Putin’s plan of hate. Even worse, the Council appears to act without considering the future. Let’s face it, for many IOF countries the involvement in a war is not a question of IF, but WHEN. And then what?

Will our sport no longer act as a bridge for peace above politics but as a tool of punishment – as and when political fashions demand so?

IOF above politics

The IOF used to be a bridge over politics for 60 years. Most of the founding fathers were from opposing military blocks in the midst of the Cold War, only 16 years after a World War. Yet, they wanted to make sure that there was a chance to find friendship through sports.

Legend says that Erik Tobé (SWE), the first President of the IOF, was adamant that sport should be separated from politics. He was upset when the athletes of the GDR could not participate in the 1st European Championship in 1962 because the NATO member Norway refused to issue them a visa.

Until now, there were only two cases in the IOF’s history when member federations attacked member federations: in 1968 and in 1999.

In 1968, when the World Championship was only a month after the occupation of Czechoslovakia when hundreds of civilians were killed and wounded. There were calls to exclude the Bulgarian and the Hungarian teams because both the Bulgarian and the Hungarian armies contributed to the occupying forces. Erik Tobé was instrumental in ensuring that all teams could participate. Sport was above politics.

In 1999 NATO launched an unauthorized bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. Again hundreds of civilians died who were simply referred to as “collateral damage” in NATO’s campaign to destroy bridges and utilities with the objective to paralyze life in Yugoslavia. The Yugoslavian Federation asked the IOF to issue a statement for peace. The IOF declined for being a sports organization, not a political body.

Council Minutes 106, Section 4.3, 9-11 April 1999

When did the IOF has become a political organisation? What has changed that the IOF is ready to exclude athletes from competitions just because some mad political leaders commit crimes athletes cannot stop?

Putin’s plan succeeds

It could be funny if it would not be so tragic that the IOF Council is just delivering on Putin’s plan. As Mark Galeotti, probably the best Russia analyst these days, writes in his article:

Isolating Russia is exactly Putin’s plan. The Kremlin would be delighted if we treated all 144 million Russians as its willing collaborators. This is soft North Koreanization, and we ought to do what we can to push back.

Russian athletes have as much chance to fight for a regime change as Chinese athletes. When we exclude them from international competitions, their chance will be that of the North Korean athletes fighting for a regime change.

Probably 90% of the Russian population watches only Russian state media these days. Watching the war in Ukraine special operations in Donbas on Russian TV is a whole different story that one cannot possibly understand if they never lived in Russia. The 10% includes most of the athletes we meet at international events.

Russian athletes are the ones who can act as ambassadors of Western values and views in Russia for the simple reason that they are amongst the few who encounter them.

Putin must be delighted to see them excluded from international competitions.

At a personal level, I am shocked to see how successful was Putin in indoctrinating even people in orienteering (who are far brighter than average folks) with some of the core values of Stalinism: Article 58 of the Soviet Penal Code and the philosophy of Cheka, the predecessor of the NKVD/KGB.

Article 58 on Anti-Soviet activities called for the same punishment for the ones who committed an act the regime did not like, for the ones who planned it, for the ones who contemplated it, and for the ones who were deemed to be in a position that made the authorities believe that they could think about it. This line of thought was perfectly illustrated by the letter of the Ukrainian Federation on Day 1 of the war and also by many Western comments in orienteering social media: If you are Russian, you must be a Putinista, who supports the war in Ukraine and who is delighted to see the destruction and suffering of the innocents. Guilty as charged!

The philosophy of Cheka, the predecessor of the NKVD/KGB, was also straightforward: it is better to see 10 innocents on the Gulag than one anti-soviet element walking free. This is implemented these days with gusto when people talk about the need to exclude all Russian athletes because we cannot possibly know if there is a Putinista or two amongst them who does not condemn the war.

Vladimir Vladimirovich is the undisputable winner when it comes to spreading the philosophy of hate around the World.

What’s next?

The Council, as a responsible body, shall also consider the implications and long term consequences of its decisions. What is the precedent set by this decision?

Does this decision set a precedent for member federations whose country conducts lethal military operations in a foreign country? Let’s face it, for some member federations this is not a question of IF but WHEN. Will we regularly miss our American and Turkish friends, amongst others?

Does this decision set a precedent only for lethal military operations in Europe? Or only military operation against a country of a member federation that counts? Or is it restricted to military operations by Russia against a country of a member federation?

Most importantly, does this decision open a new era of the IOF where moral values will be assessed by the Council and athletes from countries whose leaders do not live up to standards set by the Council will be excluded?

– * – * – * –

Whichever way it works out, this looks like a new area in the history of the IOF. Our sport may no longer act as a bridge of peace between people who may never meet each other otherwise. It may well turn into a device of exclusion and hate, a tool in the hands of political agendas set by various political powers.

Promoting peace through sports

A horrible situation is unfolding in Ukraine. It is not excusable that Putin started a war. There shall be consequences to Russia also in the world of sport to express the deep disapproval of the actions of Putin by the international community.

Not organising IOF events in Russia is a step the IOF had to take (obliged by the IOC). It is a symbolic step because no major events are planned in Russia in any of the orienteering disciplines, but an important symbolic step. So far, so good.

The reason why I felt that I have to write a post is the letter of the Ukrainian Orienteering Federation sent to the IOF and (apparently) to all member federations on Day 1 of the Russian attack.

This letter calls for “protest which promotes peace through sport”, accuses collectively all Russian athletes of “supporting Putin’s aggression when they are silent”, and claims that they “pretend not to notice the violence”.

Apparently, this was all clear in Ukraine on Day 1 of the Russian attack.

Against this clarity, it would be futile to try to bring up arguments about the way the Putin regime controls Russia, the position of the athletes within brainwashed masses who listen only to Russian media where even the words “attack”, “incursion”, and “war” are strictly forbidden, and the very real personal risks of prison athletes face for just showing up on a demonstration or making a facebook post with “anti-Russian” content.

Readers less familiar with the overall situation should note that the Russian-Ukrainian conflict stretches back to hundreds of years with lots of tit-for-tat aggression and arguments anchored 1000 years ago in the early Rurik dynasty. If anybody wants clarity, they should speak only to one side. If anybody wants to see all the complexities, they should try to fully understand the Middle East situation first, as a light warm-up exercise.

Independent of the historical background, peace never starts with an indiscriminate attack on other athletes who have nothing to do with the escalation of the terrible current situation and whose only sin is that they were born on the other side of the frontline.

The IOF should make it clear that Russian athletes not involved with the military are members of our community, and we welcome them as individuals at our events.

Practical Fair Play education

The “strong ethical value of Fair Play which we have in orienteering” is the unquestionable cornerstone of our sport. It was also a key topic on the General Assembly in 2020 with a resolution to clarify norms and rules. The IOF has started to work on a Fair Play education tool for the uninitiated.

But what could be a better place to demonstrate Fair Play in orienteering for the wider audience than a World Cup in Sweden on the IOF web-TV?

The highly knowledgable speakers could explain in detail how elite orienteering works, what runners may think and what they may need to do to deliver good results. Young athletes and runners from developing orienteering nations got the proper practical demonstration of Fair Play.

“those two working together can do really good orienteering”

“all he has to do is trying to lock eyes on the back of the Swede”

Anybody who worked on culture change projects knows that nothing works better than highly visible people demonstrating the expected norms while commentators reinforcing them. The IOF web-TV is a most helpful way to educate young athletes and new orienteering nations about the strong ethical value of Fair Play in our sport.

The only possible improvement that I could suggest is stressing that orienteering is a religion, and as in every religion, one should learn both the commandments and their applicability. It can get awkward if you do not know who are the ones who can pick and choose which commandment to keep and which one to break without consequences while being unhappy if others do not keep all of them.

– * – * –

Anybody interested in broader context, may want to check the IOF web-TV of the Long competition:

1:10:35 to 1:11:20 – AB caught up with LR after 25 minutes:
“those two working together can do really good orienteering”

3:31:30 to 3:33:25 – GB caught up with DH and developed a longer gap  
“DH is gonna’ really work hard now to try to stay on the back of GB”
at this point all DH has got to do is trying to lock eyes on the back of the Swede, trying to make that ground back whilst we have this good visibility

Psychological barriers in Orienteering

Sport is full of psychological barriers. It is much easier to achieve something you know is achievable, than breaking new limits and conventional thinking. Bannister’s 4-minute mile and Fosbury’s flop are just some of the classic examples that new horizons can be opened up in sport and business by breaking the limits of conventional thinking. For some athletes a key psychological barrier in international orienteering is set by the word “independently” in Rule 1.2.

The IOF Council should consider the option of a rule change that both simplifies the Rules, improves Fair Play by removing a key psychological barrier, and opens up new horizons to orienteering as an inclusive new team sport with high spectator appeal.

This could be a highly impactful outcome of the follow-up discussions planned by the IOF Council after WOC 2021 Long. This archaic word not only prevented excellent athletes from achieving their full potential, but triggered bitter debates and harmful division within the ranks of the aficionados of our beloved sport.

The most likely root cause of all these debates is that the very concept of “independently” appears to be lost history.

The removal of the word “independently” from Rule 1.2 is unlikely to cause any change in practice of orienteering events, because it has long lost any practical relevance anyhow.

By the removal several goals could be achieved quickly and efficiently.

  • No more debate whether the WOC 2021 Long medals were awarded to the Team or Individual winners
  • No more fruitless discussions trying to define what independent navigation is
  • Overall improvement in Fair Play by removing self-restrictive practices
  • Simplified Rules, a pet project of the IOF President
  • Unleashed creativity for orienteering teams
  • New level of interaction with spectators as team members

Below I briefly outline two simple ideas, one for forest and one for urban events, that could be easily implemented to make orienteering a more spectator and media friendly sport after removing this paralyzing psychological barrier.

The important thing to realise is that there is nothing in these ideas that would be in conflict with current practice of the IOF. The barriers are only psychological even today.

Continue reading “Psychological barriers in Orienteering”

What’s the problem?

There was an interesting point in the Council meeting minutes #207 related to the discussion of the successfully organised WOC in Czechia:

This looks somewhat cryptic. Medalists running together did not disturb the Council on previous occasions. For example in 2017 the Council did not even blink when the Swedish trailer stayed for 70 minutes behind the World Champion to finish with a bronze medal (and pushing Magne out of medal position on that occasion). Sadly, that was far from being the only occasion for a medalist running together with the winner for a considerable length of the course.

This requirement for a “follow-up discussion” also looks strange, because if the Council considers it a “fact” that these athletes were “running together” – in the sense of following or cooperation – then at least 2 of the 3 broke the rules and might be subject to disqualification:

Of course, the wording of the rule is “may” that allows for some flexibility for the organisers so that they can consider special circumstances.

Is the “follow-up discussion” required by the Council aims at trying to find an argument to justify that these athletes were not disqualified?

(WOC 2021 – Ceremonies by Jiří Čech)

That should not be a problem: the silver medalist is a World and European Champion who is above suspicion of breaking the Rules, and the bronze medalist is a super fast learner by his own admission.

A Champion above suspicion

The WOC Middle competition proved to everybody who had any doubt what a great runner and navigator Matthias was. Congratulations on his excellent run on that occasion!

Of course, it shall not be considered that he broke Rule 1.2 on WOC Long. After the unfortunate coincidence of winning the European Championships when his brother was the course setter, many commentators asserted strongly that he is such a great athlete that there should be no doubt that he achieves his results without breaking rules.

Probably we shall view his performance on WOC Long as a testament of his ability of super concentration. Imagine: running as a fresh World Champion after 25 minutes you meet the 9 years younger kid in the forest who started 3 minutes behind you. What’s more, that disrespectful kid keeps zig-zagging in front of you for 70 minutes and punches on 22 controls (out of 24 remaining) only 1 to 7 seconds before you. This might have been a distraction to lesser orienteers, but Matthias managed to tune out the kid in front of him, focus on his independent navigation and improve his position from 12th on Control 4 (before they met) to a well deserved 2nd in the Finish.

Additional evidence supporting his independent performance is how happy he was winning his first Long distance medal. Although the speaker of the web-TV broadcast suggested that he might not be very proud of this medal (implying that maybe he got some help running behind the World Champion for 70 minutes), Matthias has proven him wrong. Could a world class runner be so happy about a result he achieved by breaking the Rules?

Source: Facebook

A super fast learner

There should not be any question about the independent navigation of Magne either, even if he was talking about getting an impromptu education in Long distance orienteering on the website of the Norwegian Federation

(I and (Matthias) Kyburz got simply a lesson in long distance orienteering said Magne Dæhli)

There should be no doubt that he applied his fresh learnings independently in his own race. In fact, he was proven to be such a fast learner that he improved his position from 40th (on control 4) to 3rd in the Finish.

If only the course would have been somewhat longer, with this rate of improvement he could have taken silver or even gold! (and teach Kasper a lesson about students surpassing their masters)

A performance like this should be shown as exemplary by the IOF to all young orienteers: there is always something to learn and when you learn you become better and better in no time.

– * – * –

Let’s hope that this helps the Council to settle the required follow-up discussions. Alternatively, we may have to start to think about which are the rules that apply to elite orienteers and which are the ones that shall be disregarded.

Deep Trust, the Cornerstone of Orienteering

The various reactions received after pointing out that the results of the EOC 2021 did not look good on the face of it, were akin to ones one may receive on a Sunday Mass after pointing out that some events in the world may give the impression that God does not exist. “How dare you???”

That made me realize that there are two important cornerstones of major international orienteering events: deep trust in Fair Play, and willful blindness to acknowledge that this trust is supported only by a near religious belief in this very trust itself.

Deep trust that makes international orienteering so special and so different compared to other sports. Deep trust is also the Achilles heel of international orienteering that will bring it down in the quest for more money, more fame, and the Olympic dream.

In this post I write about the nature of this trust at individual level. In my next post I will write about the nature of this trust at institutional level, including the dangers of trying to build an ever larger house of cards of international orienteering anchored on this trust.

Of course, trust in Fair Play is an essential element of all sports. Without trust in fair competition, few honest sportsmen would invest time and effort into training. There could be anomalies on some events, but those are typically detectable and rectifiable. Rogue players and referees can be banned, inspection of equipment and doping tests can be stepped up.

What differentiates orienteering from other sports, is that some of the most impactful methods of cheating – certain forms of information doping – are both unpreventable and undetectable by practical means.

Nobody can stop an organiser to give a map with a course to their favourite athlete, or stop an athlete to visit the competition area with that map. These days athletes can also make highly accurate maps from publicly available Lidar data, and no organiser can stop them visiting the terrain in secret. Even worse, nobody can prove under normal circumstances that this has ever happened.

We can only rely on trust in the ethical standards of organisers and athletes. We have to maintain this trust despite knowing that there is increasing temptation, especially for professional and semi-professional athletes, to do everything possible for better performance that brings in more money through better sponsorship contracts.

Despite the cardinal importance of this trust in Fair Play, there was little attention paid to the nature of this trust within orienteering circles. It is taken for granted and no effort was made to understand the way it works in an environment where we can only trust in trust.

For lack of time (rather than lack of interest) to write a PhD thesis on this topic, I would like to call attention to three aspects of this trust at individual level. Trust of this kind is a very complex phenomena, but I hope that calling attention to it, orienteers will start to think a bit deeper about the way it works.

The three aspects discussed below are
– trust as a key tribal identity attribute for orienteers;
– the way affective and cognitive trust works, and;
– the imperative for our tribe to dismiss any doubt about this trust.

These points may help to understand why this trust evaporates quickly in relationship to China and remains unshaken in relationship to Switzerland, irrespective how things may look for an outsider to orienteering.

Continue reading “Deep Trust, the Cornerstone of Orienteering”

Fair Play in Practice – EOC 2021

Good work takes time. Especially when the topic is as important as Fair Play.

The latest Council Minutes #204 suggests that the Council is busy working on the topic in three working groups (educational tool, guidelines, and rules/sanctions). Little specifics were revealed for the general public, but that is fully understandable considering that the issue of Fair Play was raised only 14 months earlier due to the Unfortunate Events in China in October 2019. It took a full year to accept the remit of the Fair Play Working Group in November 2020 (Minutes #203).

Interestingly, the participants of the High Level Event Seminar got a glimpse into the ongoing work that you can watch on Youtube. So far everything appears to be in line with international best practice to handle difficult situations.

In this post I would like to make a modest contribution to the effort of the Guidelines Sub-Working Group led by the President of the IOF himself. One may argue that this is the most important group, because many Fair Play situations are special, and thus we will have to rely on core principles to judge them.

I have to stress that we shall also fully accept the Council’s position that “In eagerness to make everything 100% fair, there was a risk to make it too complicated, there needs to be a balance.”, but I believe that there are three areas where there should be as little compromise as possible:

  • Protecting the innocent athlete (and volunteers)
  • Creating a level playing field
  • Safeguarding the future of our sport

    Let me show through the example of the 2021 European Championship and Round 1 of World Cup, a real life example, how these principles can ensure fairness at a new level in our beloved sport.


    The case of EOC 2021 is interesting, because some myopic purists may point out that all the course setters listed in Bulletin #2 are associated with the Swiss Team as siblings, coaches, or team mates.

    These associations may raise questions around Fair Play for the ones who do not see the big picture. I would like to show that the selection of course setters for EOC 2021 is a demonstration how true Fair Play works in practice, and why there should be no question around the Fair Play credentials of the Swiss organisers and the Swiss Team.

    A similar setup may raise eyebrows on an event in China, but that is rightly so. A large, traditional orienteering nation with several thousand years of experience in navigation shall be treated differently by the IOF than a small landlocked nation trying to develop the sport in an inhospitable mountainous environment.

    Protecting the innocent athlete

    Protecting the innocent athlete should always be a core principle of Fair Play.

    Obviously, it would be unfair to disadvantage somebody by not letting them start on EOC 2021 just because their coach, brother, or 21 year old sister is the best course setter in Switzerland. They could be the only ones who understand international requirements in this small orienteering nation, and thus obviously they were requested to set the courses for EOC 2021.

    This is in line with previous situations related to Fair Play. The IOF’s position was clear: no innocent athlete should be disadvantaged just because they were shown the way by a compatriote, because they made a map before of the area of WOC Sprint Final, or because the World Champion was running in front of them for 70 minutes on the WOC Long course.

    Similarly, innocent volunteers, the unsung heroes of our sport should not be disadvantaged either just because they take on extra jobs. The best course setters should not be excluded just because their brothers are in the national team, or just because they contribute to the sport also through training athletes in the national team.

    Everybody has to understand that in a small isolated nation there are few potential course setters with international experience. China with its vast resources can afford to import organisers from Europe. But in the middle of Europe, the resources of a federation are not comparable to that of China. Compromises are unavoidable when selecting from the few who have any idea of international course setting standards, especially in a poor pedestrian discipline where athletes cannot afford even a pair of cross-country skis or a bicycle.

    Creating a level playing field

    It is important also to consider the objectives of Fair Play at a higher level, not just narrowed down to a single event. It is all about creating a level playing field.

    We know that there is always an element of home nation advantage in orienteering due to familiarity with local terrains. There are also variations in map making and course setting styles across nations, and obviously local athletes are used to their own national style. Course setters who know certain athletes very well may be even subconsciously influenced in their work, and thus avoid situations that could disadvantage the athletes they know.

    But there are other types of advantages that come from athletes growing up in environment with deep orienteering traditions and large resources available to them. A possible higher objective of Fair Play is to balance out these inequalities amongst athletes.

    One may argue that home country advantage should be suppressed for large, traditional orienteering nations like China, who used maps for over 2500 years and invented the compass. For example, using foreign map makers and course setters is a way to ensure that home country advantage is limited for the powerhouses of orienteering like China.

    For small and isolated nations there is no need to introduce these type of restrictions. Home country advantage is part of the game like on EOC 2021 to ensure that local athletes have a chance to achieve meaningful results against the giants in our sport.

    Safeguarding the future of our sport

    Finally, it should be stressed that safeguarding the future of our sport should always be a key objective also for Fair Play considerations.

    We shall remind ourselves, that in these difficult days safeguarding the future is closely related to taking care of our sponsors. Nothing serves a sponsor better than a home success of a small nation. Hence, anything that is not explicitly forbidden may be considered Fair Play to ensure that small nations get that extra chance to please their sponsors.

    Any artificial limitation in the name of Fair Play on small nation organisers with big sponsors may have negative consequences. That should be avoided at all cost for the benefit of our sport and the IOF.

    We shall follow closely the work of the Council’s Fair Play Working Group.

    Will they look into the ‘whys’ or will they limit themselves to the ‘hows’ when it comes to Fair Play violations?

    Will they ever consider why some experienced organisers see no issues following questionable practices that they would not accept if it were done by others?

    Will there be a two tier Fair Play system where there are usual suspects and permanent members of the Club?

    Unfortunately, so far the Council’s work looks similar to a battlefield triage, where one desperately tries to deploy limited resources with highest impact. The cases that cannot be treated and the cases that can wait are ignored, and nobody questions the reason for the war.

    A Brilliant Kick of the Fair Play Can Down the Road

    The IOF leadership performed at world class level handling the Fair Play Issue. Having spent two decades advising companies, small and large, to handle complex situations, I have to admire the use of modern management techniques by the IOF. We shall hope that on the General Assembly this week (8 and 10 July) member federations will also recognise this achievement.

    I believe that this brilliance has to be documented as a case study also for the benefit of the general orienteering public. Orienteering athletes often study for a professional career or work in managerial and professional positions. They can benefit a lot from studying how the IOF leadership avoided to deal with the very difficult problem of Fair Play, while taking control of the situation.

    Critics may point out that that the focus of the IOF management was not on solving the Fair Play Problem in orienteering. There was no sign of any specific investigation or even data collection to understand how widespread the problem is beyond the Unfortunate Events in China, there was no problem analysis, there were no objectives set, no success criteria or boundary conditions defined for any potential solution. There was no sign of a structured approach to understand the problem, despite the fact that the results of the broad based survey conducted by the IOF on Fair Play attitudes, and practical observations suggest that Fair Play violation is more widespread than we would like to admit.

    These critics completely miss the point. These days the mainstream management focus, both for public and business administration, is not on solving problems, but on controlling communication and giving the impression that the issue is handled. The problem is swept under the carpet for the time being with the hope it will not come back while current management is in office. This was done brilliantly by the IOF leadership.

    kick the can down the road - Fair Play Orienteering - wide

    Solving complex problems is not easy, because they do not have objectively correct solutions like high-school maths problems. Every possible solution is a compromise. Evaluating and syndicating multidimensional compromises is difficult and prone to failure. It is a high effort, high risk approach – if one wants to do it well.

    No wonder that kicking down the can the road – the best alternative to solving the problem – has become so popular up to the highest level of politics and the corporate world.

    The IOF management deployed the best course of action one can advise these days to management keen to avoid dealing with the problem itself:

    • Defuse the situation through delaying tactics
      (e.g. delegating investigation to a committee, launching broad general surveys)
    • Focus attention on the usual suspects, don’t admit that the problem is widespread
      (blacks, migrants, muslims, uncivilised “new” nations are good picks these days)
    • Promise non-committing initiatives with no specific objectives
      (educational programs, future reviews, etc)
    • Avoid analysing the problem, the depth and breadth of it, or its root causes
      (it would just keep inconvenient discussion alive)

    The IOF leadership has meticulously followed this textbook approach. Analysis that would have shown the links between the Fair Play Problem and IOF strategy was avoided. No meaningful debate can be launched by the public, because there is “work in progress”. No success/failure question can be raised for the lack of clear objectives and success criteria.


    Below are a couple of interesting details that both budding managers may find educational, and future academics may find useful when writing up this case study as teaching material for the best schools of public and business administration.

    Continue reading “A Brilliant Kick of the Fair Play Can Down the Road”

    Zero Tolerance and Zero Sensitivity

    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.


    IOF Survey - Fair Play - elite - JPEG

    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.

    IOF 2020 GA - Fair Play goalsIOF 2020 GA - Fair Play route choice

    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?