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”

World Orienteering Day – fewer organisers in 2018

This was a busy summer. I had no time to write proper posts. I had to help more than expected to organise the European and World Masters MTBO Championship, went to the World MTBO Championship, and also spent lots of time mapping and then organising the Isle of Man Orienteering Championships (and even done some proper work on the side).

Now it is time to get back to this blog, as there is a long list of topics waiting to be published from concluding the WOD quatrology to a more in-depth look into the history of the IOF Leadership’s Olympic ambitions.

*  –  *  –  *

The announcement on the IOF website on the final numbers of the World Orienteering Day is rather subdued compared to in previous years. Not only the “World record” focused communication is gone, but there was little celebration compared to previous years. For good reasons.

The overblown targets of 500,000 participants on 5000 events in 100 countries set by the IOF leadership were missed by a wide margin from 19% to a whopping 56%. In 2018 over seven days there were even fewer events organised than in 2017 on a single day!

The Council, unsurprisingly, did not flinch in the face of defeat. There is no hint in the Council minutes #189 and #190 that they tried to understand the reasons for missing their own targets by a wide margin, figure out why organisers were not interested in WOD activities, or alter their approach other than setting the 500,000 target now for 2020 in the strategic directions (see the congress binder). As a reminder, “Let’s reach together half a million participants during WOD in 2017!” was the call of Leho for a single day event. We could get nowhere near even over a week in 2018.

One may even get the feeling as if IOF volunteers are expected to behave like Boxer, the  hardworking naive horse, who would never question the direction set by Napoleon, but believes that any problem can be solved if he works harder. In the meantime, the numbers suggest that there is a yawning gap between reality and the ambitions of the IOF leadership.

WOD countries -3

WOD events -3

WOD participants -3

WOD by country

The targets were missed by a wide margin. Even these numbers are hinging primarily on Turkey that delivered almost quarter of all participants, just a little bit less than the next three countries, Norway, Russia and Sweden combined. Unfortunately, Turkey does not have the orienteering traditions that could make these impressive numbers sustainable without strong central will. If Turkish organisers lose interest, WOD numbers will collapse.

Continue reading “World Orienteering Day – fewer organisers in 2018”

Our leaders are the finest men

This post is not another one about the ethics of the IOF, but about elections. The title comes from a classic American protest song of the 1960s by Tom Paxton.

Many, many moons ago, in high school, my English teacher used American protest songs to liven up his classes and to make us learn more than just proper grammar. His unorthodox methods eventually earned him even a CBE, but that is another story. These days when I think about the IOF I often recall Tom Paxton’s song about how children are taught to avoid questioning the status quo.

Tom Paxton saw the stability of the US political system a hindrance to progress and accountability. The stability built into the IOF governance system may well be a hindrance to the development and accountability in orienteering.

I learned our government must be strong
It’s always right and never wrong
Our leaders are the finest men
And we elect them again and again

You can find the original here on Youtube.

It seems that the current IOF governance system is a key component of the issues around the federation. The checks and balances that are supposed to ensure that the Council works for the general good in practice do not really work.

These include, but not limited to the following:

  • There is no control over the Council between the General Assemblies (i.e. on 729 days out of 730), thus the President and Council does what they want, including modifying GA decisions at will (the most obvious is the modification of the budget only months after approval – here and here )
  • There are no consequences for giving information to the General Assembly that may raise serious questions around its reliability (the 2016 financial status is probably the best documented one here)
  • There are no accountability for actions (or in some cases inactions) that could raise serious ethical questions in a more disciplined environment. (see here a few examples)

The contested elections would provide the ultimate checks and balances, but in practice they do not exist. Just the opposite: the IOF election system provides the stability for the Council to stay in place. There is stability derived from the low number of candidates, from the system, and the culture of Council itself.

Stability in the numbers

On paper the General Assembly elects the President and the Council, but in practice they have little choice. A few charts speak better that thousand words:

IOF Presidential election 2000-16

I do not have hard data from previous years, but nobody I spoke to could remember another occasion other than 2012 since 1961 (28 elections altogether) when the election of the president was contested.  Sorry to say, but President Putin and President Erdoğan have to face much more competition in their quest to retain their position. It seems that IOF Presidents stay in position unchallenged until they want.

The number of candidates for Council positions is not much higher. In fact, the total choice offered over the last 9 elections is remarkably similar: 10 for 9 for president (11% extra) and 93 for 82 (13% extra to choose from) for Council positions.

IOF Council election 2000-16

(for simplicity I combined the number of candidates for vice president and council member, though they are elected separately)

The number of people actually facing election is far less due to low number of candidates and set quotas (at least 2 of each gender and at least 2 from outside Europe). In 2016 three people were “elected” with no competition. In 2014 the whole Council, all the eleven people, took their position with the General Assembly given the possibility other than to applaud them.

Funnily enough, the Council’s trump card in any discussion when they face arguments from the experts of support and discipline commissions is that they are the “elected body” to make decisions for the sport. Yes, elected for the lack of choice.

Continue reading “Our leaders are the finest men”

IOF Finances presentation

Next weekend, on 19-20 January, the IOF Council and the Commissions are meeting in Warsaw for the regular annual IOF joint meeting. The short common program contains an interesting topic: IOF Finances.

 

IOF meeting Jan 2018

This is a most interesting development for several reasons. The IOF leadership was not particularly interested in talking about finances before. They did not present anything even on the Presidents’ Conference in July 2017. Despite the IOF finances being on a knife edge the leadership just sent a letter to members July 2017 a week later to explain that they were handling financial issues since october 2016. It makes you wonder what happened that now they decided to talk about finances.

What makes it even more interesting is that the audience of this joint meeting has little to do with finances. There will be 60 or so participants invited to discuss commission matters and meet the Council for half a day. The participants are delegated to different commissions who have rather technical mandates from discipline development through mapping standards to environmental protection. They are not representing member federations. Few of the participants have relevant business background to understand finances.

In financially distressed companies management typically starts to talk about finances to technical people when they see the possibility of a financial meltdown right around the corner. We have to follow these developments closely. I will share with you any information I receive as soon as they become available.

 

Critical to Quality – Talk vs Action – Part 2

On 7 December the President of the IOF has published his thoughts on matters critical to quality of major events. These were refreshing thoughts, albeit somewhat unexpected, that emphasised core qualities of orienteering events like quality of maps and course setting.

“For me, CTQ at IOF major events are maps, course setting, punching and timekeeping. Of course, there are also important areas like event arenas, logistics, accommodation, ceremonies etc. at big events. But if we fail in CTQ areas, the event will be remembered forever!”

For a moment one could hope that the IOF leadership has realised what are the things organisers should focus on when staging major international orienteering events.

Yet, when we try to match the words of the President with the obligations put on organisers by the IOF, we see a mammoth gap between the two.

Mismatch between talk and action is not alien to the IOF leadership as I showed in the post about the 2024 Olympic ambitions. This is the second part of the talk vs action series.

Below I show some examples of mismatch based on the IOF Event Application documents released late 2017. That was about the time when the wise words of the President were published. Unfortunately, neither the detailed formal evaluation of applicants, nor the explicit and often contractual obligations match the words of the President.

That is really pity. In case of organisations, especially of organisations built on the effort of volunteers, matching words and actions is the single most critical feature of leadership quality.

Continue reading “Critical to Quality – Talk vs Action – Part 2”

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”

The World Games – way or no way to the Olympics?

It is most interesting that Leho Haldna, the IOF President, felt the need to publish an article that can only be interpreted as an attempt to defend the IOF’s participation on The World Games in the name of the Olympic Dream, and to express his regret that “Unfortunately not all federations and athletes are supporting our common goal”.

Leho’s assertion is that “Our athletes and federations have to realise that the road to the Olympics is via The World Games, and The World Games are the highest level multi-sport event recognised by IOC where orienteering is on the programme.”

Let’s put aside the question whether inclusion in the Olympics would be beneficial to orienteering or not. It is a rather interesting one, but almost never discussed, so we will devote a separate post to that. Here we shall look at the facts regarding the Olympic and World Game programs, whether they support the notion that the road to the Olympics is via The World Games”.

New sports on the permanent Olympic program since 2000

Olympics - permanent sports vs WG

It seems that when IOC officials told Leho that “the World Games is a window for non-Olympic sport federations to present their sport to the IOC and in case the IOC feels the sport will fit into Olympic Games (OG) programme, then there is a chance to be selected for the OG”, they forgot to tell this to the managers of BMX sports and 3-on-3 basketball. They simply managed to get their sports on the permanent Olympic programme.

Continue reading “The World Games – way or no way to the Olympics?”