75 years chasing Olympic Glory

The biennial General Assembly of the IOF takes place this weekend in Prague. Whoever attended these events before, or at least heard eyewitness reports, knows that it is very unlikely that anything unexpected would happen. There could be a handful of Member Federations who may try to throw a pebble into the quiet pond, but those attempts typically get attenuated by the quiet passivity of the majority, or by the deflecting tactics of the IOF Leadership. It is very, very unlikely that serious debate would take place on the General Assembly around questions of financials or anti-doping activity, no matter how much delegates may gossip about those questions over a beer or two.

I still hope though, that a Member Federation, or the IOF Leadership themselves may raise their voice to correct a very unfortunate oversight in the Strategic Directions and Focus Areas for the Congress Period 2018-2020 regarding the Olympic Ambition as quoted below (original in is in the Congress Binder):

AMBITION: TO BE INCLUDED IN THE OLYMPIC AND PARALYMPIC GAMES
Goal 2020:
✓ Inclusion as an optional sport for the Olympic Games in Paris 2024,
✓ Inclusion as an optional sport to Youth Olympic Games 2022 (FootO) and 2024 (SkiO)
✓ Be elected or appointed to a position in one of our stakeholder organisations

So far this is part of the usual General Assembly process that got established over the past two decades or so. The Council includes “Olympic Ambition” in the strategic plan. The General Assembly approves everything proposed by the Council with no modification. And from then on, the IOF leadership pushes the Olympic Dream, because “we have no choice; that is the mandate given by the GA; we cannot modify it; etc, etc.”

Funnily, this moral stance of  fully respecting General Assembly decisions is not observed when the President and the Council regularly modify the approved budget, even within 2 months of its approval. But that is another story.

The point of this post is to call attention to the following oversight in the 2018-2020 plan:

2019 marks the 75th year anniversary of the endeavour to include orienteering in the Olympic Games. The first negotiations with the IOC on orienteering began back in 1944, even though the IOF was not established until 1961.

This somewhat surprising, but nevertheless heartwarming information comes from the article of Heinz Tschudin, the late President of the IOF. In 1992 he published an article in Orienteering World titled Orienteering and the Olympics. I could not get a copy of the original, but here you can read a reprint published in Orienteering Canada in 1992.

Orienteering and the Olympics (1of2) - OrienteeringCanada_Newsletter_1992_Vol20_No2_FallOrienteering and the Olympics (2of2) - OrienteeringCanada_Newsletter_1992_Vol20_No2_Fall

It would be really interesting to see more information on this fact unearthed by Heinz Tschudin. It does sound strange at first sight, as we know that in 1944 majority of Europe was somewhat distracted from discussing future Olympic programmes. Yet, if we consider that in 1944 Sigfrid Edström, a Swede was the acting president of the IOC, and that SOFT, the Swedish Orienteering Federation, was already founded 1938, the story starts to look plausible. It would be fascinating to see more details on this either from the notes left by Heinz, or from the the SOFT or IOC archives.

This 26 year old article of Heinz provides superb insights into the process of trying to get  orienteering into the Olympics. I will discuss those under separate cover. Yet, I would like to call your attention to the point Heinz made about the core question he faced when tried to negotiate with the organisers of the 1982 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary:

How much money will you bring in?

36(!) years passed, but the IOF Leadership has not even tried to answer this core question that is required just to start the discussion about getting on the Olympic programme. Without a solid financial basis all the talk about Olympic Ambitions feels rather empty.

But now let’s focus on the many unique opportunities offered by this 75th anniversary, as listed below. It would be a major mistake not to use this occasion for the promotion of orienteering and the IOF’s Olympic Ambition.

Continue reading “75 years chasing Olympic Glory”

Esports on Olympics – no joke

I have to admit that when I wrote my modest proposal I was very much focused on the workings of the IOF and invoking the spirit of Jonathan Swift’s original work, including the wording of his disclaimer. I have to admit, that in this process I did not do thorough research on esports, as it looked like more of an illustration that unexpected leftfield contenders may also show up as rivals for inclusion in the Olympics.

I received a few comments that one should not be serious about the prospects of esports; that the quote from the Paris organisers about being open to esports was from August; it was made before they got officially appointed; and in any case Bach, the President of the IOC, voiced reservations even in April about whether esports can be considered seriously as a sport.

So I looked a bit deeper, and I was stunned about the developments over the past months. Both the International Olympic Committee and FIFA made major steps embracing esports.

The direction of the Olympic movement appears to be pretty much 180 degrees to the one that would favour our beloved traditional Orienteering, whether it is done on foot, on bike or on skis.

Continue reading “Esports on Olympics – no joke”

Virtual-O – orienteering’s best chance for the Olympics

In this modest proposal I would like to lay out the key arguments for promoting the virtual format as the headline competitive format for orienteering as an Olympic sport. Thanks to the effort of Peter Furucz, the founder and developer of Virtual-O, now the IOF leadership can promote a truly marketable product for inclusion in the Olympic Games in Paris 2024.

Virtual O - map

Virtual O control

Youth appeal, a key factor for Olympic inclusion, is undeniably much stronger for a computer game than for outdoors activities these days. No wonder that the organisers of the Paris 2024 are open to the introduction of esports in the program.

Virtual orienteering solves the main concern of IOF’s leadership that the current version of orienteering is still difficult to televise and too complex to understand by  outsiders not involved in the sport. Virtual-O fully fits the strategic direction of the IOF. In essence, it is the synthesis of the declared strategic directions. It is absolutely global, visible, attractive, simple, environmentally friendly, and easy to understand for everybody. It is perfectly positioned for the Olympics.

Some may argue that this move may require some additional compromises over and above the compromises that were needed to change orienteering championships from 90 minute struggles in some of the world’s most complex remote forests to a 15 minute run on asphalt in touristy cities on C courses.

We must  have all the confidence that the uncompromising drive of the IOF leadership towards the Olympics will ensure that all the required compromises are met to make orienteering an absolutely positively definitely truly virtual sport.

This confidence is also based on the fact that this proposal is fully in line with IOF’s core strategy to meet orienteering’s potential audience in the cities, instead of trying to lure people into the forest. Bringing orienteering out of the forest to city parks was the first step. But that has proven still not attractive enough for the masses of  TV audiences.

To make orienteering attractive to a larger audience, especially TV audience, the IOF has to take orienteering where the people are.

Since most of the TV viewers are on the couch in the living room, orienteering must be brought to the couch!

Yes,  there will be resistance in the forest. The supporters of the Ancien Régime will cry foul. They will try to cling to the obsolete view that orienteering at its best is one of the physically most demanding sports on earth.

We should not worry about them. The IOF leadership has a proven track record to ignore requests of groups of athletes regardless the number of world championship titles they may possess. Money talks. The siren call of the millions of dollars promised by Olympic participation talks louder than athletes. We can be confident that the IOF leadership will do their best to make orienteering virtual, if that what is needed to attract more money.

In addition, going virtual will solve many of the current problems of orienteering from long start lists, through following, till environmental impact.

What’s not to love about it?

You may read more about Virtual O on its website, on its facebook page, and even in an interview with Peter on the IOF website.

You may read more detailed arguments for this proposal below.

Continue reading “Virtual-O – orienteering’s best chance for the Olympics”

Olympic Ambitions 2024 – Talk vs Action

There were some fascinating developments over the past couple of weeks around the practical implementation of the IOF’s Olympic vision, and we could get additional insights both into the position of our favourite sport on the world scene and the real level of commitment of the IOF’s leadership.

Just a quick reminder to those sane people who spend their “orienteering time” training and competing instead of reading IOF publications: The vision of the IOF is that orienteering shall be a truly global sport and included in the Olympic and Paralympic GamesThis was taken so seriously as recently as January this year, that Mikko, one of the Vice Presidents, requested volunteer commission members to leave the plenary session of the joint IOF meeting if they did not believe in the Olympic dream. He did so before the discussion on the IOF’s strategy, including the Olympic vision. Several participants confirmed that it did not sound like a joke, but a clear suggestion that simply devoting your time, expertise and energies to orienteering is not enough for the IOF’s leadership. You are no good for the IOF, if you do not believe in the Olympic vision.

Yet, when it comes to implementation of the Olympic vision, we can observe something that feels like a refreshingly quiet passivity that may signify a more rational approach by the IOF leadership.

Apparently the initiative to start working on an application for Paris came from the FFCO, the French Orienteering Federation. The public announcement that orienteering becomes a candidate sport for 2024 was made with no IOF representation. There was not even a news item on the IOF website about the FFCO announcement on the meeting with the President of the Paris 2024 organisers. It feels like a stark contrast to the devotion to the Olympic dream expected by Mikko from everybody in the IOF structure.

Of course, this quiet passivity may be the sign of acknowledging reality. L’Équipe, the French sports daily, ran a survey about the three sports people expect to be on the Olympic program in 2024. Orienteering did not make it to the 12 sports to choose from.

The question is whether we see a changing IOF strategy, or a confirmation that the Olympic dream is just a pipedream.

Or could it happen that simply no more money left in the IOF beyond spending on essential tasks?

Continue reading “Olympic Ambitions 2024 – Talk vs Action”

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.

The World Games – compromises

Just two quick impressions that may illustrate the compromises imposed by multi-sport events on orienteering.

TV schedule compromise

9:00 CET on Thursday, 27 July, is the start of the Sprint Relay, our most Olympic and TV friendly format that was specifically developed to attract TV viewers from close and afar. It is as short and as dynamic as orienteering gets. It is even mixed gender – everything the International Olympic Committee and TV viewers may want.

The Olympic Channel is an internet TV service operated by the IOC. It is the “official” channel of The World Games. Its Thursday schedule looks like this:

Olympic Channel - 27 July

Obviously, there are always compromises when it comes to showing a multi-sport event. But let’s try to digest: wakeboard semi-finals could beat the most TV friendly of all orienteering finals in a head-to-head clash. Could this be a gentle hint that the IOC thinks that our sport does not fit the Olympic programme? Or is this a special route choice to the peaks of Mount Olympus that only the IOF leadership could spot?

Multi-sport compromise

The arena on New Market Square in Wroclaw was the same for sport climbing and orienteering. Sport climbing was first, so a large screen was placed ideally to show all the action. It remained for orienteering to show the TV stream, including the occasional route choice analysis using the GPS tracks on the map. Right besides the Finish – and the Start.

World Games - Sprint start - screenshot

To make it more interesting, different athletes were entertained/distracted/informed by different pictures from the TV stream. Some saw the map, some others control locations, some others mistakes of earlier runners, or just some less relevant pictures. I am sure it has livened up those slowly ticking seconds of the last minute in the last box.

On our way to the Olympics.