Orienteers are adapting to COVID restrictions

In countries around the world, competitive orienteering has been heavily restricted or stopped altogether by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it has become possible more recently for many nations to hold their national championships, but on a more restricted basis than usual.

A good example is Switzerland, where on the weekend 12-13 September the Long Distance Championships were held over 2 days so that no more than 1,000 competed on one day. The elite classes ran on the Sunday, with Sabine Hauswirth winning D21E with a run 4 minutes faster than Simona Aebersold, and the ever-green Daniel Hubmann taking the men’s title by just under 3 minutes over Florian Howald.

Separation of classes, no arenas
Separation of elite races, with under 18s, then 19-20 and finally 21+ in the course of a long day, has been a feature in several countries. In Norway a limit of 200 persons simultaneously was set for the arena, with only the top 6 in the results allowed to stay on after their race. Here, the long-standing dominance of Olav Lundanes was broken this year; the Middle Distance was won by Håvard Sandstad Eidsmo and the Long (the following day) by Audun Heimdal. Women’s elite winners were Marianne Andersen and Andrine Benjaminsen.

Finland’s Middle Distance championships were spread over 2 days, with qualification on the first and finals on the second. There is no qualification for the majority of classes in the Sprint championships this year, with start times being spread throughout a very long day. As in many other nations, these events are being held with no arena facilities or on-site results display, special social distancing measures at the starts and competitors being asked to leave the area shortly after finishing.

Sweden has restarted elite-level events, with recent races being won by Tove Alexandersson (twice), Martin Regborn and Eskil Kinneberg. Middle and Long championships, to be held this weekend near Göteborg, will be organised over 2 long days with no more than 50 participants competing at any one time. The Sprints are scheduled for 10-11 October. All the events will be televised live by Swedish national broadcaster SVT.

In both the Czech Republic and Denmark, national championships in all disciplines have been or are being held, albeit with date changes and some restrictions. In the Czech Republic, qualifications have been scrapped and the best 70 from last year’s rankings will be eligible to compete. Youth, elite and masters championships are being separated from each other. In Denmark the Middle and Long championship events have been split in two, with under 50s in the morning and masters in the afternoon or vice-versa.

Championships scrapped in Australia and Great Britain
Some nations have been restricted much more than others. In both Australia and Great Britain it is not possible to hold championships this year; it is currently planned to have the same organisers and venues next year instead. Small local and regional events are now going ahead in these countries, but arrangements and maximum numbers vary according to local area restrictions. Guidance is sometimes confusing and landowners are often reluctant to give permission right now. “From the middle of March until early July there were hardly any orienteering events conducted in Australia. In July, as restrictions were relaxed, some orienteering has been possible, although no large events are still possible, meaning not more than 500 participants,” says Paul Prudhoe, Executive Officer of Orienteering Australia. “Each State has its own COVID plans in place to allow sport to continue.”

In many nations where there have been no competitions over a long period, club and elite training has nevertheless been possible, on an individual basis with controls set out in forests and courses available online sometimes for a full week. For many club orienteers, training opportunities under these conditions have been somewhat greater than in a normal year. And a number of IOF member federations are reporting a significant increase in the popularity of recreational orienteering activities.

We will follow-up this article with information about other countries and MTB Orienteering and Trail Orienteering events.