The Agency Problem – Part 1

A case that may both demonstrate the reason for budget overruns and the general lack of controls within the IOF is the story when Brian Porteous, the President at the time, decided (apparently single handedly) to spend money over the anyhow loss making IOF budget on the SportAccord convention in 2013.

Brian decided to ignore the 2013 budget that was approved in July 2012, just 6 months before. A budget that he himself proposed as Vice President at the time of budget preparation.

The Council members, according to the Council minutes, did not blink, as in many other cases when the President made interesting decisions. The member federations had no meaningful mechanism to react.

As a result of the extra €14,100 spent on the SportAccord Convention the budgeted loss  of €52,400 for 2013 has become a loss of €66,600.  There was still some reserves left to spend.

IOF Budget 2013

Before we get into details of this story, I think that it would be useful to introduce some theoretical background.

The Agency Problem

The core issue around the IOF is what business literature calls the Agency Problem. This is an unavoidable feature of large organisations where owners  (shareholders, or in our case 70 member federations) entrust an agent (CEO/President, Board/Council) to run the organization on their behalf.  Unavoidably, the two parties will have different interest and the agent will run the organization in a way that is not optimal for the owners. Conflict of interests and moral hazards are frequent problems. The lost value to the owners is called the Agency Cost.

Continue reading “The Agency Problem – Part 1”

Ten Years of Underperformance – Update

Over the past month I was too busy to deal with much more entertaining things than documenting the mismanagement and slow motion crash of the IOF. But now I have some time to continue with this gruesome task.

The Council had a meeting on 13-14 October. The published minutes (#186 here) provide additional information and data on the Council attitude to IOF finances.

The Council minute looks like a good old Soviet party communique: all good news, as long as you do not scratch the surface. It reinforces the feeling that the IOF leadership considers finances as their little internal business members should not get involved in.

The 19 page long minutes do not even mention the IOF – Letter to members July 2017 sent by the IOF President after the last Council meeting. The one that was carefully sent after the Presidents’ Conference regarding financial issues and the major revision of the budget. It was a “no event” that the IOF leadership apparently prefer to forget about and erase it from publicly documented history.

The key message of the minutes that revenues are up and expected to rise, while costs are largely under control. The funny bit is that the additional costs mentioned (regional event medals, higher overseas event advising costs, SEA for the World Games) are ones that should have been known when the 2017 budget was prepared. The fact that IOF Leadership uses them as an excuse for higher costs just underlines the feeling that the 2017 budget submitted to the General Assembly for approval was – mildly speaking – not thought through.

Yet, with all the improvements 2017 is still expected to show only a small positive result estimated at around €9,000 (85% below the €66,000 budget), and the updated forecast for 2018 was €30,000, that is over 80% lower than the €169,000 presented to the General Assembly. As expected, the GA approved original budget numbers were carefully not mentioned in the Council minutes.

Now it is official that Council expects to underperform their own budget by a 10 year combined gap of over €500,000 as a result of not meeting their own targets in any year since 2009.

IOF Net income vs budget - update

It is also interesting to zoom in the (2016-18) budgets presented to the General Assembly 2016. The gap between Council promises and delivered results has exploded.

Continue reading “Ten Years of Underperformance – Update”

Ten Years of Underperformance – Skill or Will or Something Else?

The decade long erosion of the financial stability of the IOF discussed in the previous post did not come as a result of a sudden event. It was the result of continuing underperformance of the IOF leadership who missed the budget target for 10 years in a row.

Please see updated numbers to this post here.

This post has turned out to be longer than expected. I had little time to write it, so I could not make it shorter. Here is the summary if you are also pressed on time:

  • The IOF Council has missed the budget target every year since 2009. The target set by themselves, and rubberstamped by the General Assembly without change.  It would take a miracle to achieve the targets for 2017 and 2018. That makes 10 years of missed targets. 10 years of continuous underperformance.
  • It is unlikely that this was due to lack of skills: the leading figures of the IOF during this period (Ake, Brian and Leho) all prided themselves with business background.
  • Looking at recent events one may get a feeling that the IOF leadership just did not care about the budget approved by the GA, hence they could not possibly deliver it:
    • In a letter to member federations about the difficult financial status of the IOF signed by Leho and Tom, the “GA Budget 2017” is different from the 2017 budget published as approved on the IOF website in the minutes of GA 2016.
    • In the same letter they claim that in October 2016, 2 months after presenting the 2017 budget to the GA, they already started to modify it “to get costs in line with expected income”. There was not a hint of an unexpected event that could have modified expected income in the 2 months after the GA. This gives the feeling that the Council presented a 2017 budget to the GA that was not realistic, but the GA approval gave the Council free hand to modify it to their liking.
    • The outcome of budget modification(s) started in October 2016 was not shared with member federations until 14 July 2017, nine days after the  Presidents’ Conference in Tartu. This gives the feeling that the IOF leadership decided to avoid any open discussion about budget modification with the member federations who approve the IOF budget.

Here are the details of the story that may make you wonder how long IOF member federations will put up with being treated like this.

The numbers

The Council missed their own target every year since 2009, for 8 consecutive years. They already conceded that 2017 will be missed (€66,235 surplus was budgeted, but only €9,767 was expected in July 2017). It looks also highly unlikely, that in 2018 the budgeted €169,010 surplus, that is 2.5 times(!) higher than ever achieved in the IOF’s 56 year history, will be delivered. That gives a solid 10 consecutive years of missing the budget as shown on the chart below.

For updated data please see this post published after the October 2017 Council meeting. 

IOF Net income vs budget v2

 

This level of  underperformance is most remarkable under any circumstances. It is even more remarkable, because
a) the IOF was run by experienced managers according to their CV, and
b) the budget was set by the Council themselves, only rubber stamped by the General Assembly.

Officially it is the General Assembly who sets the budget, but in practice it simply approves the one submitted by the Council. I could not find a case in recent memory when the GA modified the budget. I could not even find a case in recent memory when the GA has even debated a line item. There were some high level remarks now and then, but everything was approved as suggested by the Council. So we are not talking about some stretch targets not being met. No, simply the IOF leadership could not deliver for 10 consecutive years on their own promises made with no external pressure. Remarkable.

Skill or Will?

Seeing this level of underperformance one should ask whether it was due to missing skill or missing will. Could it happen that the leadership of the IOF did not have the basic skills required to prepare and deliver a budget for a quite simple small operation? Or was it due to lack of motivation or intention to deliver on their promises, and follow the budget approved by the General Assembly? Or was there something else behind all this?

Let’s try to find some pointers that may help us decide.

Continue reading “Ten Years of Underperformance – Skill or Will or Something Else?”

IOF Council attitudes – some data

I wrote my last post about the World Game accident in anger. For me it was just another unfortunate outcome of the Olympic and ceremony biased attitudes of the IOF Council I saw over the past six years. Some people less familiar with the workings of the Council – as I was myself before I was requested to join the MTBO Commission – told me that there was no real substance in that post, only emotions.

I fully appreciate that things that are obvious for me about the workings of the Council, may not be obvious for others. So I decided to compile some data to illustrate my point about the things the Council is interested in, and about the ones they are not bothered with. I have to admit, that despite having no high expectations, I was astonished by the results.

The number of Council meetings since 2010 where ceremonies were discussed was almost two times higher than the combined number of meetings where safety, accidents, injuries, athletes health and wellbeing, or competition fairness was mentioned.

This appears to be in stark contrast with the Ethical Principles of the IOF declared in the IOF Code of Ethics:

“In pursuing the sport’s goals, the governance of Orienteering shall be mindful of the physical and psychological wellbeing of its athletes.”

I used the Council meeting minutes as a proxy to the mindfulness of the Council. Few people read them, but they reflect quite well the topics the Council is dealing with. These are fairly detailed accounts of 2 to 3 day long Council meetings. Typically they are 6 to 12 pages long, though there are 4 page and 21 page long ones too. They are available on the IOF website for the periods of July 1996 to August 2003, and January 2010 to present. The ones after January 2010 (#150) are searchable. So I could easily search 36 of them spanning over 7 and a half years till today (#150-185).

Below is the summary of the number of Council minutes that contained certain key words. I counted only the occurrences with substance, as detailed below.

Council meeting minute statistics v2

I think these results speak for themselves to prove that the IOF Council does not appear to be mindful of the physical and psychological wellbeing of its athletes, both in absolute terms, and especially relative to the attention given to protocol, ceremonies, and the Olympic Dream.

See details below:

Continue reading “IOF Council attitudes – some data”

The World Games – what shall we call this?

I am lost for words. I really feel for poor Isia, the first runner of the French team on today’s Sprint Relay. I hope her injuries are not too bad, and she was lucky enough to avoid serious consequences of a situation that could have ended in a very, very bad way.

TWG Sprint Relay - French team

You can watch the video here at 25:50.

200m from the start, 15m from the map start, when everybody is in one bunch with heads down trying to make sense of the map. Barrier, thin grey bollards with sharp edges, concrete flower bed. It is a loose-loose situation in every sense.

The showcase for orienteering, two IOF advisers, LiveOrienteering coverage, full attention of the Leadership, special article from the President on the importance of The World Games on our way to the Olympics.

All the IOF focus – except for basic athletes’ safety.

Orienteering is inherently risky. You cannot make it risk free. Part of the joy is that you take on calculated risk – not only in route choice, but also in personal safety. I know this very well having involved in orienteering for over 35 years, and in MTBO – the riskiest of all disciplines – for over 10 years.

But we should do our best that athletes take on only the risk they want. They should not be exposed to unexpected hazards they are not prepared for. They should be warned, they should be routed around, organisers shall take care of the athletes at all levels. In MTBO we created an online injury database to collect data and experiences, and safety aspects especially around start and finish are regularly revisited with organisers and in Event Adviser clinics.

Here is the point where top management talk matters. Two decades of working with top managers and being in top management myself taught me that it matters much more than people in position imagine.

When all the top management talk is about high flying ambitions, attractiveness, TV production, and dignified ceremonies just like in the Olympics – it focuses the mind of organisers in one way. When there is also talk about athletes’ safety, it helps tremendously to avoid mishaps like the one we saw today.

I hate to write about this today.

Presidents’ Conference – will there be questions?

I am just getting curious, if there will be any questions on the Presidents’ Conference in Tartu regarding the critical financial situation of the Federation.

The IOF finances have deteriorated to a point where normal business variation may result in bankruptcy, not to talk about the impact of an unexpected event.

The presidents of IOF member organisations will meet the President, the Council and the Secretary General on Wednesday, 5 July, during WOC 2017. The Presidents’ Conference is an advisory body to the IOF, typically meets every second year in between General Assemblies. Yet, all key participants are the same as on a General Assembly, hence it gives the opportunity to discuss all important IOF questions with the members.

The agenda for this years Presidents’ Conference was sent on 24 April

• Strategic Directions 2018-2024
• Strategic Planning Calendar for IOF Events
• IOF Sustainability Policy
• Update on the IOFs Anti-doping work
• Reports on on-going activities

No mention of financial questions, whatsoever, though it was clear in January that IOF finances took a nosedive after years of steady decline (see here). One may – mistakenly – believe that there are two topics where overall finances may be addressed, but that is not the case.

The strategic directions document is light on numbers (contains only dates and page numbers), despite the sad fact that finances often present hard constraints to strategic dreams.

The IOF Sustainability Policy is all about environmental impact, while the sustainability of the IOF as a financially viable organisation is taken for granted.

(Interesting to note that the Consultation Paper on IOF Sustainability includes fascinating ideas like using Eventor to make participants of orienteering events pay an environment fee dependent on where the participant travel from – but that deserves a separate post).

 

Budget and results 2016-17 v2

Yet, the Council knew already in January that the 2016 and 2017 combined financial results were expected to be €160,000 worse than the budgets the Council presented to the General Assembly 5 months before. (see 12.2 and 12.5 in Council Minutes #183).

Compare this with the IOF reserves of €114,630 at the end of 2015, and an estimated €77,000 at the end of 2016. The uncertainty in the budget forecast shown above is comparable to the reserves left after the continued decline since 2008. Another downward revision comparable to what happened in 2016 or expected for 2017 would mean that the IOF looses all its reserves. That is called bankruptcy.

Continue reading “Presidents’ Conference – will there be questions?”

WOD 2017 – beyond the headlines

The results of World Orienteering Day 2017 were announced today. New record, greater success. New territories involved from Antarctica to Cambodia, from Honolulu to the Isle of Man. Amazing!  –  Yes, everything is great until you scratch the surface. How come that out of the 35,000 more participants in 2017, 37,000 came from Turkey? Was there a decrease in the rest of the world?

No misunderstanding: All respect to the WOD team and the Regional and Youth Development Commission who organised it. Great work! Excellent promotional and teaching materials! Chapeau also to the Turkish organisers! In a country where orienteering is far from being a natural choice of sport for kids, it is absolutely great that they managed to spread the word and get so many schools interested.

The problem is that enthusiastic IOF communication is again trying to mask real questions around our sport. Like in IOF finances, everything is fine on the surface, but you do not have to go too deep to find serious questions despite the headline increase of WOD participation from 252,927 in 2016 to 288,007 in 2017.

WOD participation 2016-17 v2

Continue reading “WOD 2017 – beyond the headlines”