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

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Highest standards of transparency

Let’s try to understand why the International Orienteering Federation has been losing substantial monies over the past 8 years. On the face of it, it should be easy: the IOF is an international sport federation, a not-for-profit organisation that publishes annual accounts. These are presented to the General Assembly every second year in the Congress binder and in the Biennial report. You can find the latest one here.

It should also help, that the fundamental values of the IOF clearly state that

“Orienteering is committed to the highest standards of governance and transparency in the conduct of its business”

Unfortunately, practice is always more complicated than declared values.

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IOF Finances – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Money matters. Even in amateur sport. Even if we prefer to focus on the sport we love.

Still, in amateur sport money is often the critical resource that limits possibilities. Ambitious ideas quickly come down to earth when one tries to find funds to cover even basic expenses. Any discussion on strategy is empty fluff when money matters are not considered together with the ideas discussed.

When we look at the finances of the IOF we see a mixed picture: solid revenue streams, runaway expenses, and dwindling reserves that may threaten bankruptcy at current trends

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Why did I start to write this blog

I have decided to write this blog because I am concerned about the future of the International Orienteering Federation, and thus the future of international orienteering. There are serious strategic, financial, organizational and moral issues faced by the IOF. I felt the internal discussions to be limited, and critical feedback to be discouraged by the leadership. I am afraid that without change the IOF may go down the path of other disgraced international sports federations.

I resigned from my position in the IOF seeing no chance to bring meaningful improvement – and often not even meaningful discussion – within the existing structures.

I had served for 6 years on the IOF Mountain Bike Orienteering Commission, the second largest orienteering discipline after Foot Orienteering, 4 of which as Chairman. I saw many things that made me concerned about the future of international orienteering as a whole, not just about individual disciplines. I tried to change things from the inside, in most cases to no avail. I finally resigned seeing no chance to bring meaningful improvement – and often not even meaningful discussion – within the existing structures. You can read my resignation letter here, the follow up discussion in the MTBO Group on facebook on, and my “exit interview” on the Portuguese Orienteering blog.

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