Fair play and major events in new orienteering countries (updated)

After the Military World Games and the World Cup Final in China some questions need to be raised:
IOF Secretary General Tom Hollowell about fair play, major events in new orienteering countries and the IOF work beyond medals and results.

What is your view on fair play in regards to the Military World Games and the World Cup final?
– First of all I think some clarity is needed regarding the CISM Military World Games in Wuhan. The Military World Games is not an IOF event but the orienteering competitions are regulated by the IOF competition rules by agreement between CISM and the IOF. There is absolutely no doubt that the flagrant cheating that happened there by the Chinese Military Orienteering Team is completely unacceptable. The IOF has been very clear about this in our communications. In fact it was very satisfying to see that the IOF rules applied by the CISM controller and jury worked very well when applied to the situation. The rules violations were very clear and relatively easily verified and documented and despite taking some time, the decisions of the jury were finally accepted and the correct athletes were awarded. However, the IOF is not fully satisfied with the handling of the case by CISM, where the Chinese team was removed from the start and results lists as if they had never participated. CISM chose not to put in place any sanctions which the IOF disagrees with, but which is completely within the jurisdiction of CISM. The IOF has therefore determined that sanctioning of the involved team members and officials, as it relates to future participation in IOF activities, needs to be investigated by the IOF Ethics Panel in accordance with the IOF Code of Ethics. Furthermore, the IOF has suspended its relationship with CISM until the full investigation has been completed.

When the cheating carried out at the Military World Games was discovered and understood, the IOF made significant efforts to defeat any activities of not playing fair at our own World Cup final:

  • The IOF investigated any possible connections between the Military World Games and the World Cup final, noting that none of the Chinese Military Team athletes or coaches were registered to participate in the World Cup.
  • The IOF discussed the clear division of responsibilities for military and civilian orienteering with the Orienteering Association of China and received appropriate guarantees to this effect.
  • The competition information had already been held only within those individuals with a need to know. For example, information about the full courses was only held by the course setters, and the location of TV cameras and split times was shared only for the individual locations.
  • All planning of the TV broadcast was held to a limited number of trusted individuals who had worked at previous IOF events in the same capacities.
  • The course setting team, and access to the competition information, was further reduced and a number of changes were worked into the courses where possible.
  • The team working with the final preparations were resources which had been brought in from Europe and had all worked in previous IOF events.
  • Maps were printed directly under the supervision of the course setter.

– We are fully aware that following the World Cup sprint competition, there is speculation about the performance of Chinese athletes and whether they might have gained unfair advantages in some way. No complaints or protest were made by other teams at the competition and the results became official in accordance with the IOF rules, says Tom Hollowell.

The IOF has however continued to investigate via follow up interviews. There was and is no verifiable proof nor material evidence of any wrongdoing. The nature of the area used for the sprint competition also caused some of our top athletes to make quite significant mistakes and in fact the results contain more surprises than just the Chinese athletes.

UPDATE: I would like to include in this article the statement made by IOF President Leho Haldna and subsquent referral to the IOF Ethics Panel made today, October 31.

Statement from the IOF President and referral to the Ethics Panel:

The International Orienteering Federation, together with the Orienteering Association of China, organised the IOF World Cup 2019 Final round in Foshan, China from 25-30.10.2019. The Event was executed on the highest organisational level and we are very thankful to People’s Government of Guangdong Province, Guangdong Provincial Sports Administration, The People’s Government of Foshan City, all sponsors and supporters.

However, members in our community and orienteering friends globally were surprised by race developments and final results. Incredible improvement of technical skills and running speed of some athletes creates questions and we, the IOF, need to analyse the background for such unexpected performances from a few athletes.  Our sport is based on three values – Inclusive, Sustainable and Ethical. There are understandable doubts that maybe some of our basic values were ignored by some athletes.

Based on the information collected from various sources I hereby use my right in accordance with the IOF Code of Ethics, to report the matter to the IOF Ethics Panel and ask them to investigate possible violations of the IOF Code of Ethics at the IOF World Cup Sprint Final Event on 29.10.2019.   END OF UPDATE

– That is somewhat the nature of our sport, where things like respect for terrain embargoes and control of competition information are fully dependent upon the good will and ethical values of individuals. I hope that this episode if nothing else will be a strong reminder that fair play in our sport is dependent upon these values. I personally have been too naïve in believing that the strong ethical value of fair play which we have in orienteering as I know it, are automatically transmitted to new orienteering nations and across cultures.  In light of what has happened at the Military World Games I would make recommendations in two areas:

  • That our discipline commissions review rules, organiser guidelines and event advising guidelines regarding access to competition information, terrains and embargoes and see if there are improvements which can be made based upon what has actually happened. The CISM controller will be giving us a full report about the Military World Games case.
  • I also recommend that we look at instituting some form of simplified Fair Play education materials which can be transmitted and used by member federations and organisers to make sure that the specific aspects of orienteering competitions that affect fair play are understood and accepted as critical to our values. Fair play is not only about anti-doping but goes to the core understanding of our rules.

– With all that has happened, I can only feel a profound disappointment and sorrow for the sport in China. I think the proven cheating at the Military World Games will set back the development of the sport in China for years to come. The real loser here is the broad development of Chinese orienteering as support from the IOF will be questioned. There are a lot of very positive development activities in China which are affected by this loss of credibility. But I also believe we need to continue to work with the Orienteering Association of China to improve the reputation and credibility of the sport.

Describe the decision behind organising a World Cup round in China?
– The main reason for having an IOF World Cup in China, or for that matter anywhere outside of Europe, is for the global spread of orienteering. It has been the goal of the IOF to spread the sport of orienteering to as many people, in as many countries, as possible. Taking major events to new countries is a strong motivator for development. The IOF did put some renewed focus on China, with the largest population of potential orienteers in the world, 3 years ago. And orienteering has in fact grown significantly in China over these past 3 years. Participants at WRE events and tour events in China have shown appreciation for the efforts put forth by Chinese organisers and the IOF felt that the level of maturity of organisers was at a level which merited the award of the World Cup. And having seen their unique terrains, especially for sprint, and their offerings of hospitality there was a sense that a World Cup event in China could offer a special experience for participating athletes.

What challenges did you foresee in that decision?
– From the beginning when the event was awarded we knew that there would be challenges but felt that the effort was worth the reward for both the athletes experience and the IOFs goal of spreading the sport. The challenges expected were very much in the technical aspects of the event, and the IOF made investments in education programs for Chinese mappers and organisers, with visits to assist them in the planning and with expert resources in various areas like course setting, mapping and timing. Other challenges came up along the way like the process for obtaining visas, and the IOF has spent additional resources on assisting the organisers. I think it is important to note as well that other areas of the organisation were carried out without significant issues, for example logistics and ceremonies. Every IOF major event has challenges, and no doubt there were more with this event than is normal. I will let others assess if the investment was worthwhile and as with many investments I think some time should pass before making a final judgement. But my feelings directly after the event are very mixed from pride in undertaking the task, to disappointment in not delivering on all aspects. In hindsight I think we should have applied ever more resources and efforts to guaranteeing the quality of the event, especially technically.

What is happening now?
– I think it would be unfair to simply leave the organising of the World Cup in China without analysis and reflection. So I believe we need to do a full evaluation of all aspects of the event, also together with the organisers in China. I believe that such an evaluation will lead to improvements in other IOF events, but also help determine if and when we might return with an event to China in the future. And we need to continue to be in close contact with the Orienteering Association of China to make sure that issues of fair play are recognized and addressed.