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.

The Voice of Athletes vs Keeping Up Appearances

In the previous post it was discussed that after the continuing quality issues on major IOF events in China the FootO Athletes Commission had enough. They wrote a statement to the IOF leadership, signed by 100 or so international elite athletes, requesting changes to ensure more fairness for athletes on major events. They received an apology from the IOF President for the problems on the Middle Distance competition on the World Cup in China. He thanked them for raising the issue, and promised a reply after discussion in the Council. So far so good. We shall eagerly await the outcome, though finding a solution to the problems discussed in the previous post would require a major rethink of the IOF’s approach to major FootO events.

Unfortunately, the track record of the IOF Council is not particularly good when it comes to listening to athletes in strategic questions. Probably the most memorable moment was when the IOF Council rejected the unprecedented joint plea of the four Athletes Commissions of all four disciplines in the Autumn of 2013. The Council decided to introduce “Olympic style” prize givings in 2013 with only the 3 medalists on the podium. The athletes wanted to keep top 6 on the podium. The Council rejected the athletes because

“orienteering strives to become an Olympic sport and Council would like the award ceremony to mirror that of the Olympic Games.”

No money was involved, and no external demand. Just a choice between “Keeping Up Appearances” and the request of the athletes. It was a pure ego trip. Eventually the pressure from other corners became too big and the Council had to budge three months later keeping top 6 podiums on award ceremonies.

One may call this an old story. After all, this happened 6 years ago. Yet, 8 of the 11 Council members today, including the President and the three Vice Presidents, were amongst the ones who voted against the unprecedented joint plea of all athletes commissions in 2013. Did those 8 Council members change their attitude towards the athletes since 2013?

This story is interesting not only for placing a show element above the request of the athletes. It also serves as an example how much weight the words of the Athlete Commissions carry when it comes to questions close to the heart of some members of the Council. Recently the Council announced an initiative to modify the IOF Statutes to include one or two (gender balanced) athletes as voting members of the Council. This was apparently triggered by the governance audit that showed that the IOF does not one trend amongst international federations.

Does the new initiative to include athletes in the Council represents a new approach to athletes, or is it just another manifestation of the keeping up appearances approach? Is it done for genuine interest to work with the athletes, or just to make the IOF look better to the outside world?

Continue reading “The Voice of Athletes vs Keeping Up Appearances”

IOF Event Quality

Serious quality problems are the striking symptoms that something is not right around the IOF major events. Large part of the problems that popped up in China were related to quality issues. But this was just the latest manifestation of a long series of quality problems in major IOF events. In fact, there are few IOF events across all disciplines that did not have quality problems (or luckily avoided “near misses”) that should never occur on our top competitions. Despite all the effort, the problems in FootO, the IOF flagship discipline,  appear to be the biggest ones, even resulting in competitions that were voided or should have been voided like the men’s Middle distance in China.

Quality issues keep popping up not for the lack of want to avoid them. Most organisers put in a heroic effort to stage high quality events, but in practice there are many avoidable banana peels that they slip on more often than not. These are typically different banana peels that should have been easily spotted in hindsight, but the abundance of them suggests that the problem is systemic rather than a long series of bad luck or individual errors.

The IOF leadership recognized the problem a while ago. In 2017 the IOF President specifically voiced his expectations that organisers should care more about quality and spend more on it. In practice, the selection of organisers of major FootO events is still driven by the “show elements”, because the fundamentals of these events are very different according to the Leibnitz convention.

The client of major IOF FootO events is the TV viewer, not the athlete. This is in stark contrast with all other events, small or large, across all four orienteering disciplines.

The latest manifestation of this was seen in China just the day before the disastrous Middle distance competition. The IOF Council did not approve the only candidate to organise EOC 2022 because it did not commit to live TV broadcast, an extra €80,000 or so expense.

Analogue situations in business are quite common. Persistent service quality issues are typical symptoms of an organisation where strategic directions (if you prefer, management ambitions) got detached from the capabilities of the organisation and the realities of the external environment. The management trap lies in the fact that individual quality issues always look fixable with a little more attention. Hence, the underlying root cause of overstretched ambitions is far from being obvious. To make things more complicated, even if the root cause is identified as the gap between management ambitions and capabilities, politically it may not be admissible to point it out. Yet, the very fact that quality issues keep popping up left and right despite never ending attempts to fix them, shows that the real issue lies in the fundamentals.

There is an interesting development though that we have to watch out for. The new Finnish Council member, who is responsible for Foot-O, has shown a particular interest in major event quality. Even before China he told the Foot-O Commission that one of his area of attention is to identify possible root causes for the fatal mistakes in High Level Events and learn from analysis of failures. Analysing root causes of problems and learning from failures is a revolutionary new approach to be introduced to the IOF Council. We shall eagerly wait for the outcome of his work.

Continue reading “IOF Event Quality”

Reflections after the events in China

I wanted to write a post reflecting on the events in China two months ago. I guess everybody remotely interested in orienteering have heard about the events, both the serious violation of fair play rules on the CISM World Military Games, as well as the major quality issues and their consequences on the Middle, and the unbelievable results of the Sprint during last round of the FootO World Cup.

While working on my post I had to realize that the questions facing international orienteering related to the events in China are so complex and multifaceted that they cannot be jammed into a single post. So here I just touch on each and every aspect, but intend to devote separate posts to each of them over the next couple of weeks. The topics are ranging from IOF event quality to the IOF controlling system; from the respect of the athletes’ view to athletes’ trust in the system, and the role of the Ethics Panel that was left holding the baby; and from strategic relationship with China to the limits to growth of international orienteering.

The overall situation is similar to poorly managed companies that face a breakdown after embarking on ambitious expansion plans. I worked with some of these in my professional career, and believe me, it is not fun to see them breaking down soon after they start to feel happy about their prospects. The issues swept under the carpet by management for years stay under the carpet until the strain of increased demand on the organisation exposes them. Such management is often baffled by the apparently sudden breakdown of the organisation. They had no problems exposed for years, and suddenly everything blows up in their face. Yet, they seldom admit that all those problems were there under the carpet all the time, just nobody cared to address them.

On a positive note, the IOF strategy to raise the profile of orienteering through large multi-sport events (CISM, Universiade, World Games etc) is working.  Orienteering was mentioned even on Fox News, currently the most influential US news channel, and featured in a large number of publications worldwide from the Guardian in the UK to the Bangkok Post. I guess this is how PR success looks like.

Continue reading “Reflections after the events in China”

Money to spend

There was an interesting point in the April 2019 Council Meeting Minutes that may be subject to some interesting discussion this week in Norway during the Foot-O World Championships and the Presidents’ Conference held in conjunction. Pity, that in contrast with previous years, no information is available in advance from the IOF’s relevant web page.

In April the Council has committed a very substantial €50,000 guarantee, or 27%, towards the CHF 200,000 cost of inclusion of Ski-O in the 2021 Winter Universiade in Switzerland. “Council agreed to offer to Swiss Orienteering a guarantee to reserve a maximum amount of 25 000 EUR from the budget in 2020 and 2021 respectively towards the inclusion of Ski Orienteering in WU 2021.” You may find all details the Council Minutes #194 on the IOF web page.

It was refreshing to see a highly unusual deviation from the unanimous voting norm within the Council. The Finnish member “raised concern about funding partner events before improving the IOF’s own event programme and asked that this be noted”. The Norwegian member “felt the amount being committed to this project was too large in relation to meeting the goal in the Strategic Directions and asked that this be noted”.

I believe that there are three questions the Presidents of Member Federations may want to discuss next week:

  1. Is there really extra money available for the IOF to spend?
  2. Does the Council have the right to introduce a new item to the approved Budget?
  3. Is this the most useful way to spend any extra money that may be available?

The short answers detailed below are:

  1. It is far from being obvious if the IOF can afford this €50,000 commitment.
  2. The Council has no statutory right to modify the 2020 Budget approved by the GA.
  3. It would take only €18,000 a year to double the Athletes Prize Money and reduce by a third the IOF tax levied on MTBO organisers, actions that would definitely benefit our sport.

The bonus question remains open: what’s the reason that FISU, the International University Sports Federation, is so close to the heart of the IOF Leadership?

Is there money to spend?

It is far from being obvious that there is money available for the IOF to make these type of commitments.

First, the 2020 Budget approved by the General Assembly does not contain any item remotely similar to this. Even the extra “Budget scenarios” that assume higher sponsor income did not include any discretionary spend for the Council.

IOF Budget 2019-20

IOF Budget Scenarios - 2019-20

Second, in 2016, in a much better financial situation and outlook, the CEO of the IOF clearly stated that “IOF’s capital and reserves should be strengthened and that the surplus was primarily intended for this purpose” [and not for development funding]. You may read details in the 2016 GA minutes. Based on that statement of the IOF CEO, and considering the weaker financial position of the IOF after the major loss in 2016, the profit of 2018 and subsequent years should be used to stabilise the financial position.

It should be also considered that the current IOF leadership in the Financial Year of 2016 only 4 months before year end misjudged the result of the IOF by more €130,000 (the result was €65k loss instead of €67k surplus presented to the GA at the end of August). With this level of uncertainty a large financial cushion looks mandatory in the interest of the sport.

Third, not all the money shown as profit in the IOF statements may be available for spending. Although the 2018 Annual Report shows an impressive surplus of €106,054 for the year, the amount of Trade debtors has also jumped to €70,472. For the ones not familiar with accounting terminology, Trade debtors in essence shows the part of the financial results that was recorded, but cash not yet received. There are no details on the composition of this rather substantial sum, but not all of that money might be recoverable. The IOF has a track record of not being transparent when it comes to dubious debt. The best documented case is the €16,000 Brazilian debt of 2014 that was converted into a “regional development funding” in 2016 – without any transparency by the IOF. The only reason we know of this that the Brazilian Federation was more transparent than the IOF – Acordo IOF CBO – Debt Agreement Original em inglês.

Can the Council modify the Budget?

A financial guarantee is a budget item. According to the Council Minutes #194, as quoted above, the Council offered the financial guarantee of €25,000 from the 2020 Budget. The problem is that there is no expenditure item that could be used for this purposes in the 2020 Budget as approved by the General Assembly, as shown above.

According to the Statutes of the IOF, the approval of the Budget is a task for the General Assembly (Section 7.4). The Council Remit is rather broad, but does not contain any right to modify the approved Budget (Section 8.2).

It is true, that the lack of right did not bother before the IOF leadership in modifying the approved budget. The nicest example was the modification of the 2017 Budget, when a revision of approved 2017 Budget started already in October 2016, two months after its approval.

Yet, this could result in a rather funny situation. Who will pay, if it comes to 2021 and the IOF is not capable – for whatever reason – to stand good for the €50,000 guarantee towards the Swiss organisers?

Will the guarantee be enforceable, if it was made over the budget by ones who had no right to modify the budget?

Is this the best way to spend it?

Every time one makes a financial commitment, it should be asked whether alternative spend of the monies would be more beneficial. In the months before the April Council meeting there were two causes that arguably could be more beneficial to Orienteering as a global sport than supporting the Swiss organisers of the 2021 Winter Universiade.

First, the prize money of athletes. As discussed before in my post on the Value of Athletes, the IOF Leadership shares nothing, or close to nothing, with the athletes of the hundreds of thousands of euros received from selling their performance to sponsors and through various media channels. In 2019, according to the budget above, €0 IOF contribution was planned (€9000 prize money all collected from organisers of World Cup events). According to the Special Rules for World Cup 2019 (already in deviation from the approved budget of 2019) the IOF contributes €1500 to the €12,000 prize money (the rest being collected from the organisers). So €12,000 contribution from the IOF could double the prize money.

Second, the IOF tax levied on MTBO major event organisers. The MTBO Commission asked the Council “that event sanction fees should be variable based upon IOF membership categories, citing that this would help in finding organisers of IOF events, improve quality and global development.” But “Council was not in favour of the proposal. […] The Council discussed other options for finding event organisers in MTBO such as reducing the number of events and/or reducing the program and complexity of current events.”  In short, the Council would rather see a reduction in the number of 3 major competitions for MTBO athletes, than foregoing any part of the €18,000 total sanction fee collected from major MTBO events (€10k from WMTBOC and 2x€4k from World Cup organisers). Even a €6000 lower tax burden would make little change in the IOF budget, but would make substantial difference for MTBO organisers.

As shown below, the combined financial impact of the above two actions supporting many, many athletes would be much lower than the 2x €25,000 the IOF leadership is ready to hand over to the Swiss organisers of the Winter Universiade.

IOF Budget impact - athletes vs FISU

 

Why support the FISU?

The bonus question that remains hanging is about the reason why FISU is closer to the heart of the IOF Leadership than the prize money and meaningful international program for top athletes when it comes to financial support. After all, it could be considered rather surprising that the IOF is more ready to support a partner event than its own athletes and organisers.

For a long time I could not find a reasonable answer until I remembered that in 2017 the President of the IOF had to fly all the way to Taipei to collect a special prize from FISU for the “Best International Sports Federation”.

Leho - FISU - 2017

 

Have the Athletes Commissions or the MTBO Commission ever invited over the President of the IOF to present an Award for the ‘Best International Sport Federation’? I am afraid not.

So they should not be surprised.