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.

    https://o-worldcup.ch/en/

    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.

    Perfect!

    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?

    Orienteering Fair Play in practice

    Since the Unfortunate Events in China (hope this is a PC enough reference), the IOF has put lots of emphasis on Fair Play.  The intention is to bring the topic of fair play into focus and help facilitate discussions throughout the orienteering community. A worldwide Fair Play Survey was launched and  a project has been initiated to create a values-based education tool around topics of Fair Play, and to connect this via a certification to the IOF Athletes License as reported in the Council meeting minutes #197.

    For the upcoming IOF General Assembly the Finnish Orienteering Federation has also submitted a proposal (see page 98 in the GA Agenda) to “save the culture and Fair play of our sport” referring to the events in China as “an excellent wake-up for orienteers who believe in trust and in the sport’s own strong culture”.  They suggest a number of ethical and educational, as well as more technical actions as examples, but the focus of the proposal is to find out “which actions IOF has or will take to prevent unethical behaviour in our sport”.

    All good stuff. Albeit, it feels somewhat theoretical. Everybody knows the right answer, or at least everybody can learn it. It is a bit like asking people in a Sunday school, if it is acceptable to sin or is it better to read the Bible; or upon a top university entry exam asking, if racism is tolerable. It is very unlikely that one gets the answer wrong.

    This blog, trying to be helpful as always, would like to introduce the possibility of using real life situations from actual events to discuss fair play questions.  There are three cases taken from the IOF’s flagship World Orienteering Championships to ensure that the situations described are real life examples for international elite orienteering.

    One should note that these cases all involved athletes from leading orienteering nations that provide the strong ethical basis for fair play, and not from the “uncivilised” new orienteering nations participating on their first international events. One should also note, that none of these events triggered a public reaction by the IOF on the status of Fair Play in Orienteering, like the one in China.

    The three cases from the WOCs discussed below are as follows:

    • 2018: a Danish Spectator
    • 2017: a Swedish Trailer
    • 2015: a Scottish Favourite

    These are all real life cases that happened over the past 5 years. Everybody remotely interested in elite orienteering will know the athletes involved. Yet, I will refer to them only by their nationality to emphasise that it is the situation that is important, not the person.

    Fair Play - Latvia shown control - masked

    Continue reading “Orienteering Fair Play in practice”

    A Special Privilege

    I was subjected to a special privilege by the IOF: I received an honorary mention with full name in the XXX. IOF Congress documents in one of the reports.

    This is no small thing. A casual glance suggests that I might be the only one with no IOF function or candidacy who was subjected to this privilege. This comes within few months after the President of the IOF has mentioned my name in his speech on the 50th Anniversary Celebrations of the Hungarian Orienteering Federation as one of those who made a significant contribution to international orienteering.

    I am flattered.

    Some naysayers may point out that being mentioned in the activities report of the Ethics Panel is not flattering, but a mention is a mention. Some may even take the view that it was not ethical that the Ethics Panel named only me of all the involved in the five different cases investigated; especially considering that the Ethics Panel acquitted me of breaching the IOF Code of Ethics.

    IOF Ethics Panel - report 1

    IOF Ethics Panel - report 2

    I cannot disagree more with the last suggestion questioning the ethics of the Ethics Panel. Bob Dredge, the Chairman of the IOF Ethics Panel, to whom I return hereby the honour of being mentioned by full name, is the most ethical person in the world of orienteering (by definition), and his actions are the pinnacle of ethical behaviour (by definition). Case closed.

    A landmark case

    My legal representative, the cynic he is, pointed out that it was not me who was subjected to the honorary mention. It is a long standing legal practice in case law to refer to landmark cases by the name of the parties involved. Many heard about the case of Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision of the US Supreme Court; or the case of Socrates, who was sentenced to death for being a social and moral critic, and instead of upholding a status quo, questioning the collective notion of “might makes right”.   

    The investigation of my blog was a landmark case, the first attempt by the IOF to use the powers of the Ethics Panel to silence a journalistic activity for asking inconvenient questions.

    I am most grateful that I avoided the faith of the Greek philosopher despite committing rather similar sins of asking inconvenient questions and challenging the decisions and wisdom of people in elected office.

    My legal representative also pointed out that the IOF Ethics Panel has to be applauded for their open and honest communication.

    The IOF Ethics Panel declared (indirectly) that
    • details do not matter,
    • due process is irrelevant, and
    • decisions are based on feel.

    This may not be obvious for the ones not familiar with this very case, so I would like to help to explain the reasons why my legal representative was so impressed by the honesty of the IOF Ethics Panel.

    Details do not matter

    Despite the case of this blog is listed in the Ethics Panel report to the IOF Congress as one of the five referrals received, there is nothing published of this case on the page of the IOF Ethics Panel. To be precise, it is not even stated that there was a case regarding this blog.

    The only place where you can learn about this case is here on this blog. This is understandable considering that the Ethics Panel could not even come up with a specific allegation of wrongdoing during the 8 month long process.

    By listing the case in their report without publishing any details, the IOF Ethics Panel has clearly declared that details did not really matter in this instance.

    Due process is irrelevant

    The report of the IOF Ethics Panel implies that the case against this blog went through a full hearing. This is suggested also by stating under the case of the China World Cup that it “did not proceed to a full hearing”, but no similar statement for the case of this blog.

    Yet, there was no formal hearing in the case of this blog. In his email of 24 February 2019 the Chairman of the Ethics Panel emphasised that the Panel was “seeking information to form a view as to whether a formal Panel Hearing is warranted”. It was never communicated that the case has moved to the stage of a formal Panel Hearing. The lack of any report on the web page of the Ethics Panel also suggests no formal Panel Hearing.

    It is refreshing in many ways to see that the Ethics Panel did not get bogged down in the details of drawing lines between information gathering to decide whether a formal hearing was required, and a formal decision making process. Decisions on cases of ethics are noble tasks and should not be dragged down to the level of soulless bureaucratic nitty gritty like declaring formal panel hearings.

    There were many more wonderful details around the whole process detailed in my earlier posts. My legal adviser referred to the overall process as “funny”. He particularly enjoyed that the reputable Ethics Panel demanded “clear factual evidence” to allegations they could not even specify.

    Decisions based on feel

    Typically, judicial bodies in the democratic part of the world are keen on projecting objectivity in their decisions. They try to cite specific points of the law, and stress the logic of their decision making process, no matter how vague or questionable that might be. They try to emphasise that decisions are objective, and not based on subjective feelings.

    It takes a special courage to openly declare, as the IOF Ethics Panel did in their report, that their decision was based on feel. They did not feel the code was breached, they did not feel like imposing sanctions.

    ~     ~     ~     ~     ~

    I believe that we have to be proud of the IOF Ethics Panel. An Ethics Panel so open and honest would be the joy and pride of any sports organisation.

    Fresh guidance from the IOF Ethics Panel

    The long awaited Ethics Panel decisions on the China events in October 2019 have been published yesterday on the IOF website. These are important not only because of the specific rulings regarding the events in question, but also for their implicit guidance to the whole international orienteering community.

    As discussed earlier, in the view of the IOF Ethics Panel the IOF Code of Ethics applies to everybody without limitation in time, who has ever touched a map or saw a runner with map in hand. Hence, it is everybody’s obligation in the orienteering community to read, discuss and understand the decisions of the Ethics Panel that provide the interpretation of the high level text of the Code of Ethics for practical situations. They are profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

    Ethics Panel China - Screenshot

    There was little surprise in the overall decisions of the Ethics Panel: the proven cheaters of the Military World Games were banned, while the request to investigate strange results of the World Cup was politely declined. Yet, there were several important elements of the decisions that set precedents for future cases:

    • The IOF Ethics Panel confirmed that they see their jurisdiction covering events and athletes with no formal ties to the IOF, just because they engage in an activity called orienteering;
    • The IOF Ethics Panel may not only conduct a trial in absentia, but according to their report it seems that may make even no effort to contact the individuals subject to their investigation, thus one may get sanctioned without given a chance to defend themselves;
    • The plea of acting “under orders” is a strong mitigating factor for cheating athletes, at least when they are associated with military organisations;
    • The IOF Ethics Panel keeps using undisclosed (maybe even unwritten) procedural rules to decide on cases, especially when it comes to the standard of proof required;
    • The IOF Ethics Panel encourages the IOF Council to regulate social media through fair play rules;
    • The IOF Ethics Panel is not transparent in their activities; some lengthy investigations may never get disclosed for reasons unknown, yet inconvenience the subjects of the investigation.

    Though it has been shown in connection to this blog that even asking questions in IOF related matters may result in a lengthy investigation by the IOF Ethics Panel, yet the imperative to become more ethical through the study of the decisions of the Ethics Panel shall make this risk worthwhile.

    Let’s look at the details:

    Continue reading “Fresh guidance from the IOF Ethics Panel”

    Fair Play, or What You Will

    The IOF has launched a Fair Play survey asking for assistance from the global orienteering community in getting answers to a number of questions about Fair Play. The IOF’s intention is to summarize the results on the first week of February, so please complete the survey asap if you have not done it yet.

    The Council meeting minutes #197 says that  TH reported on the work that had been initiated on a project to create a values-based education tool around topics of Fair-play, and to connect this via a certification to the IOF Athletes License”. An interesting idea that suggests that sitting through a multiple choice test may become part of the IOF Athletes License process. It is unclear though if the intention is a pass/fail test, or some sort of an “educational” test where athletes have to keep clicking until they find the right answer.

    This broad based survey is a very interesting initiative, but as often with IOF initiatives, it raises a large number of questions looking for answers. Let’s look into some of the most interesting ones.

    First, it is unclear what is the objective of the “survey”. Is it about to understand if there is any divergence between attitudes to Fair Play in the community, and IOF rules on Fair Play, for example around coaching zones? Or is it about to put extra weight within the educational tool on areas where opinions may diverge from the IOF Rules? The questions repeatedly ask “How severely do the following impact fair play within orienteering?”, but that does not reveal if the survey is looking for “emerging views” or “educational gaps”.  If there is a survey in a convent about the appropriateness of reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover, it is unclear if the intention is to buy a copy for the library, or to try to determine how much additional educational help is required to straighten the minds of the residents.

    IOF inclusivity

    Second, the lead-in question (as shown above) asks about the inclusiveness of orienteering. This is a tricky one on multiple dimensions. It is rather unclear if it was thought through. After the events in China some people asked fairly explicitly on discussion forums whether there was a racial bias when the highly unexpected results of the Chinese athletes were questioned. This was a surprising question about racial bias, one that I have never ever seen in orienteering before. Yet, my experience after many more years of orienteering than I would like to admit, that the answer is rather simple, even if it is not very obvious.

    We shall answer this question with pride: orienteering is not very inclusive. It does not welcome all types of athletes.

    Orienteering welcomes athletes from all around the World*, but athletes who cheat or do not follow fair play practices are disdained.

    * independent of race, color, gender, national origin, age, religion, creed, disability, military status, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression (for the avoidance of doubt)

    It should be noted, that from the early days of sport, well before orienteering existed, the concept of Fair Play was developed by sporting communities to protect athletes and substitute written rules. The stronger the community, the stronger the Fair Play culture is. The stronger the community, the less inclusive it is. Fair Play is not about accepting the individual by the community, but it is about the individual accepting the rules of the community to get included. Sorry, Fair Play is not a PC concept.

    But there is even a much deeper problem with the educational tool approach hinted by this survey and the suggestion in the IOF Council minutes. There was not a hint in the minutes that deeper analysis was done by the Council to try to understand the root causes of the events in China. It all appears to be a desperate reaction to demonstrate that something is being done.

    The IOF appears to be working on a solution without making sure that they got the right question. Testing athletes on the knowledge of the Rules and their interpretation is not a cure for the deterioration of a community driven Fair Play culture.

    Unfortunately, pushing for an educational tool without understanding the essence of the problem feels a bit like sweeping the core problem under the carpet by stopping inconvenient question because “something is being done”. This approach is not dissimilar to delegating the specific issues that popped up in China to the Ethics Panel. Delegation has ensured that for months, or maybe for years, the IOF leadership does not have to answer any question on the topic, because “there is an ongoing investigation”. The January Council minutes linked above show that the Ethics Panel apparently did not event report back on the task given in October 2019 when“Council referred to the IOF Ethics Panel to consider if sanctions could be applied to individual athletes, team officials and organising officials participating in the CISM event for future IOF activities” (Council minutes #196).  Mind you, the CISM case with the on-event decision to disqualify the Chinese team was the much more simple one compared to the situation on the World Cup. We may have to wait a long time before we get any results.

     

    The core of the problem around Fair Play in orienteering appears to be much deeper. One may argue that currently the strongest single force working against Fair Play may be the post-Leibnitz strategy of the IOF. The Leibnitz convention, as discussed earlier in my post about IOF Event Quality, was the starting point for the IOF to move away from the “we for us” mentality of organising events, and to start to serve the needs of the media. Leibnitz was the official starting gun for the beginning of the commercialization of orienteering. Nothing undermines more a community based Fair Play culture than the commercialization of the sport and Olympic inclusion. The higher the stakes, the more money involved (both nationally and internationally), the weaker the community spirit becomes, and the stronger is the incentive to break the written and unwritten rules of Fair Play.

    No misunderstanding, there is nothing wrong with commercializing a sport, trying to simplify it so that it becomes consumable for the average TV viewer, and trying to move it into the realm of proshow. But there are consequences.

    I am afraid there is a need for a much, much more detailed discussion around Fair Play in orienteering than a limited questionnaire about attitudes. Without asking inconvenient questions first, it is not possible to come up with the right solution.

    I will look into more questions around Fair Play in orienteering in my next post.