Recently World Cup special rules for 2014 were issued. Something which will perhaps evoke comments, which will unfortunately stay again mostly hidden inside teams. However, the whole current WC concept deserves wide discussion.
The orienteering World Cup has namely very little prestige among runners nowadays, which is a big pity. From that angle, I doubt the authoritative decision to count in all races will have any positive impact. If any impact at all, rather the opposite. The basic question namely is: Is it practically possible for most top runners to participate in all WC stages? The answer is "no".
Orienteering is neither F1, nor biathlon WC. Majority of our top athletes are not professionals and most teams at the international level are struggling hard with their budgets. Worth noticing, that many of national teams have weaker economy than a common Scandinavian elite club. Such an environment needs special care.
At first sight, the 2014 schedule looks attractive. Indeed. Events will mostly offer challenging orienteering. But to make a successfully working World Cup concept, which would be attractive for athletes and which would also support our strategic development goals, more respect to basic feasibility questions is crucial. Of course, it is really nice to have WC events in many different terrains, in attractive locations, with larger number of long distance races again. But such a World Cup scheme simply doesn´t respect the economic reality inside orienteering. Some economic precautions should be considered hand in hand with such a demanding season schedule draft.
Unfortunately, World Cup as it is set by now is an exclusive competition for a handful of teams with strong economy. There are namely only few national teams, which have enough money to participate in all World Cup rounds. No one seems to be effectively concerned as this has been the case for many years.
Now - the more rounds, the more travel costs. The IOF says there are 5 rounds on next year, but practically it is 7 rounds. From that respect, to start with just one(!) race in Turkey in the middle of European winter is a bit thoughtless act. And to force all teams to take part in all events by counting all WC races into final standings is not the proper way how to handle this aspect.
World Cup scoring rules remind about comparing apples and oranges. In some races you meet 8 guys from each of strong countries (and almost no one else...), in others just 3. Basically absurd. This particular aspect got even worse now when in some cases even less then 3 runners from one country will be allowed to run WOC races and at the same time all WC stages count for final standings. Also WOC selections will then have a huge impact on final WC standings… Conclusion: Counting WOC into final WC standings creates a mess and significantly lowers prestige of such WC series.
National quotas of either 8 or 6 runners naturally also don´t support the consistency. I can´t find any practical profit of this distribution other than that we need to allow more runners from strong countries to fill up the sparse start field. As a matter of fact, currently all countries could easily have the right to send 8 runners as the field is often weak.
Is it a good idea to have world cup races right when it should be most proper to be completely devoted to training and building up a capacity for WOC performance, which is far most important for everyone? As Czechs, we can simply skip it, but poor Scandinavians…
Is it suitable to put WC races right prior to the EOC? At first sight it looks as synergy. But: Is this welcome by athletes who are mostly students, some of them already working? Who of the coaches with families, mostly having also other jobs than orienteering, can be 10-15 days in a row out of home several times per year?
These are, of course, questions which could be a matter of discussion. Couple of years ago, we have suggested a coaches´ committee as a consultative body, but unfortunately with almost no reaction. Pity, coaches are namely those who are, apart from being experts on orienteering, forced to calculate and be effective. They represent customers. All in all, the coaches are deciding whether the team will or won´t take part…
I would also wished the athletes´ committee would be working more effectively / being more heard. Worth noticing: in that body, no one represents "budget" countries. (Btw, who is taking over the coordinator position after Matthias Merz now?).
I need to admit, that I completely miss any World Cup vision nowadays and for us (among many other teams) unfortunately WC races serve only here and there as a part of general preparation. And only when our team budget allows it. Again, I am not happy about that. (I should add that CZE should not complain about money, our budget is perhaps still the biggest of all former "East European" orienteering federations...)
It would be nice to have World Cup
- where majority of national teams want to take part and can take part
- where the athletes feel themselves motivated to fight for any positions bellow top6 as well
- where feasibility questions are carefully considered
- where the points will have same value in all races (meaning that the start field would be theoretically same), thus perhaps not including WOC
- based on rather less number of traditionally well organized events (such as Swiss WC, former Spring Cup, PWT…), which would also possess possibilities and good will to be a part of continuous development of our TV product
- offering worthy prizes (nothing against diplomas, but… ;)
At this place I should mention that also the miserably refused biennial principle of forest WOC and sprint WOC would give us more time space and resources to focus on World Cup, at least during the years of the sprint WOC where not so much effort needs to be devoted to training in specific WOC terrains.
Of course, global concerns make everything much more complicated.
But my belief is that we first need to create a working WC core in Europe, using more effectively the limited own recourses of national teams at this stage.
We can get more global first when the system will be able to produce some economic support to at least some kind of "red group".
This may not sound nice to the teams from overseas, which are constantly forced to invest a lot into travelling and which also can´t travel back and forth for each of WC rounds. But such a working system could eventually help them as well.
To be really global is not possible without economic support given to athletes/teams.
Back to the race in Turkey. Yes, many Scandinavian teams will perhaps travel there in march for a training camp anyway. Some of them have also rented houses in Portugal to create attractive and effective training environment for their athletes. Their managers are able to find partners and resources. And their currency is strong enough so that they are not paying several times more for everything when travelling abroad. A natural question is then: how about to have semiprofessional World Cup consisting of sponsored teams instead of nations? Like that, definitely more orienteering stars would get a fair chance to fight for WC victories because the teams would be motivated to hire best available athletes. (Personally I don´t really like the idea so far, naming it just as an alternative direction of thinking.)
Some money could be "saved" already inside the current system if the World Cup schedule would be planned carefully with regards to travel costs, time demands and if the organizers would be asked to provide also cheapest possible logistic & accommodation solution as an important part of their event concept.
Here I want to express my big thanks to all organizers, who really understand the meaning of "low cost" or "budget" accommodation. That´s namely not the same as "low cost hotel", in many expensive countries not even as "hostel". Many teams still can´t afford to pay more than 10-20€/pers/night, despite including some of orienteering world stars. Then it is simple - when the teams are forced to pay irrational sums for e.g. WOC accommodation (because e.g. local fans occupy all cheap places before the bulletin1 is out), they have no money left for any other international races. Or they send just individuals. Moreover - to find a suitable cheap accommodation is much more demanding than to find well marketed more expensive alternatives. Although invisible, this is a critical part of every arrangement and one of critical issues for further orienteering development, indeed.
Feels strange when seeing that at one hand we are constantly attempting to get more nations and athletes to our top events, and on the other hand a very little effort is made to help the teams to participate.
Frequently discussed paradox
The IOF has rather small income from sponsors, living mostly on money from federations and event organizers. The IOF is not capable to find sponsors, but the organizers need to make it, not just to be able to organize events, but also to be able to pay the fee to the IOF… Does it say that all the organizers are actually considered to be more skillful in getting money into orienteering then the IOF staff? Isn´t it strange?
No. It is natural. Organizers are simply forced to find the money. The IOF as a system is apparently not forced enough to behave effectively. The question is whether there are sufficient built-in mechanisms inside our international organization to ensure that the IOF will also be strongly motivated to become an attractive partner as quickly as possible?!
Orienteering is passion. That´s the key principle which keeps this generally underfunded movement alive. More than just alive - it delivers a large number of highly committed athletes capable of incredibly professional performances, giving a start field more mature than in many Olympic disciplines. It also delivers keen organizers producing on voluntary basis breathtaking high class events using top technologies. This is our treasure, which we need to maintain well, with highest priority.
The World Cup would perhaps deserve some more passion.