On 1 July the IOF General Assembly will vote on the confirmation of the indefinite suspension of the Russian and Belorussian Orienteering Federations by the IOF Council.
In this suspension process, the IOF Council violated the Statutes, the Code of Ethics, and several core principles of due process required in civilized democratic environments. The IOF Ethics Panel helped this process by turning a blind eye to the violation of the Code of Ethics by the Council. This case gave a feeling of elements of historic lynching exercised in the US South and feudal despotism, but not of a democratic process of the civilized world.
Will the General Assembly approve the multiple, deliberate, and blatant violations of the Statutes and the Code of Ethics by the Council? Or will it stand up for the Rule of Law within the IOF?
Of course, it may well happen that the “It was not nice but necessary for justice” attitude will prevail. The same attitude that drove the supporters of lynchings in the US South and the hardcore Putinistas in their justification of the “special military operations”.
One may just hope that the IOF Member Federations do better and stand up for the Rule of Law on 1 July.
On 24 February Putin started a despicable war against Ukraine in violation of international laws and normal conduct amongst civilized societies.
On 28 February the IOF Council suspended indefinitely the Russian Federation and on 4 March the Belorussian Federation, though it had no right to do so according to the Statutes at the time (see Council Minutes 211). They could have imposed only temporary limitations until the General Assembly decided on the matter.
In addition, the IOF letter sent to the Russian Federation indicated that the Council also violated the IOF Code of Ethics by making a decision on “non-compliance with the IOF Code of Ethics”.
Only the IOF Ethics Panel has the right to make such a decision. The Statutes do not give any right to the Council to decide on that.
Below, I detail some of the most blatant violations of the IOF rules and general due process by the Council.
33 of the 32 registered delegates supported the Statue Amendments proposed by the IOF Council at the Extraordinary General Assembly on 25 March 2022. This 103% approval is a remarkable achievement considering the additional 6 against and 4 abstaining votes, according to the Official Minutes of the EGA. (also on pages 29-34 of the Agenda and Background Papers of the XXXI Ordinary General Assembly) This remarkable voting record means that the 2/3 majority required for the changes of the Statutes has been achieved. The authenticity of the Minutes shall be above doubt, as it was signed by the President of the IOF, the Secretary General, and the Chairman of the EGA.
On 1 July, the Member Federations present in the Ordinary General Assembly shall vote to approve the minutes of the EGA with the above voting record. One may contemplate what could happen during that meeting.
In an organization with strong governance ethics, one may expect the rejection of the self-contradictory EGA minutes. Consequently, that would mean that the Amendments of the Status are not approved. Thus, the leadership would be required to call another EGA to discuss and approve any proposed amendments. (assuming their statutes are similar to that of the IOF, which categorically prohibits the inclusion of Statute Amendments as an urgent business – see Section 7.6 of the old and Section 7.3 of the questionable new Statues). There might be even questions raised about whether the leadership that signed and published such minutes has the right attitude to lead the organization.
In the IOF, it would not be surprising if the Member Federations would approve the above nonsensical EGA Minutes without even blinking. The IOF Leadership may point out that not all the details of the signed Minutes shall be taken seriously, only the ones the IOF Council deems necessary. The Member Federations, well accustomed to the no-consequence culture of the IOF, would happily oblige. After all, this is IOF business, as usual.
Of course, the Member Federations may choose to show an even higher level of support for the IOF Council. It would be a nice demonstration of the strength and unity of the IOF, and the true sporting spirit of orienteers, if on the GA an even higher proportion, say 110% of the registered voters, would approve the EGA Minutes.
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.
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.
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?
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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.
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.
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.
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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“
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.
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?
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?
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.
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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.
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.
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).
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:
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.