Home / Events / New IOF Rules: No more GPS-watches on WRE-events

New IOF Rules: No more GPS-watches on WRE-events

You won’t be allowed to carry a GPS watch like the Forerunner 405/305 on WRE races, World Cup races and WOC races from June 1st according to the new IOF rules published by the IOF today. Note that the IOF rules are not applicable to events which are not organized through the IOF, and thus GPS-watches may still be used in all local races, national races, international races without WRE-status, Jukola [not allowed according to Jukola rules – the Swedish language invitation explicitly disallows all GPS-devices, whereas the English language version only disallows tracking devices], etc.

Whereas the previous set of rules stated that navigational aids like e.g. GPS-watches could not be used during the competition, the new rules state that navigational aids may not be carried. One could argue that a GPS-watch is not a navigational aid, but that is no use – all GPS-watches available can show you running distance and altitude, which may definitely aid your navigation.

However, you may still use GPS logging devices without a screen – which give you no information at all as a navigational aid. One example is the Globalsat BT-335 Data-logger, which can log your position every second while running (and is compatible with Quickroute), but which gives you no navigational aid during the competition.


My personal comment: For the sake of the development of the sport of orienteering, I hope that national federations will not follow the IOF-rules and disallow carrying GPS-watches in all races. Disallowing wearing of GPS-watches in WRE-races, World Cup-races and WOC-races makes some sense – but for other competitions one should allow competitors to carry the GPS-watches with rules according to the old formulations in the IOF-rules, i.e. not allowed to use this type of navigational aids – and trust the runners to follow the rules in this respect.

The last years, we’ve seen that a lot of the top runners use GPS watches and the Quickroute software (the map above is from Mats Troeng’s digital map archive) to analyze their races, and share with the orienteering community. It would be sad if national authorities following IOF-rules should stop this development which has so much potential for getting new orienteers interested in the sport.

Below you find the most important rule changes. Note that it is now also not allowed to set up your own GPS tracking over GPRS without the approval of the organizers. Also, controls may now be down to 15 meters apart for 1:5000/1:4000 scale.

Navigational aids
  • New: 21.3 During the competition the only navigational aids that competitors may use or carry are the map and control descriptions provided by the organiser, and a compass.
  • Old: 21.3 During the competition the only navigational aids that competitors may use are the map and control descriptions provided by the organiser, and a compass.
Telecom equipment (e.g. personal GPS-tracking over GPRS)
  • New: 21.4 Competitors may not use or carry telecommunication equipment between entering the pre-start area and reaching the finish in a race, unless the equipment is approved by the organiser. The organiser may require competitors to wear a tracking device.
  • Old: 21.4 Telecommunication equipment may only be used in the competition area with the permission of the organiser.
Controls 15 meters apart on 1:4000/1:5000
  • New: 19.4 Controls shall not be sited within 30 metres of each other (15 metres for map scales1:5000 or 1:4000). (see also Appendix 2, #3.5.5).
  • Old: 19.4 Controls shall not be sited within 30 m of each other (see also Appendix 2, #3.5.5).

About Jan Kocbach

Jan Kocbach is the founder of WorldofO.com - taking care of everything from site development to writing articles, photography and analysis.

Check Also

Route to Christmas: Day 10 2010

Todays leg in Route to Christmas is a leg from the United States with several ...


  1. With regard to rules 21.3 you cannot effectively carry a reserve compass now as the rules says “a compass”.

    Under the old rules you could “carry” a reserve compass and of course you’d only ever “use” one compass at a time.

    Exception: Pasi

  2. So infact also watches equipped with a altimeter, like Polars S720 or the newer ones, are also banned ?

  3. This is really stupid news from IOF.

  4. What next? Pulsewatch and compass?…

  5. @Krügerol: Yes – all watches which may be used as navigational aids are banned for these types of events – including Polar S720 with altimeter.

  6. So the IOF should equip the organizers of WREs and higher with lists of banned watch models. I bet they won’t do anything like that. We’ll see what future brings.

  7. This is really sad news, especially for me as the QuickRoute developer. The result of hundreds of hours of unpaid work (i e the QuickRoute software) is now banned to use at major international events. At least for the vast majority of athletes that do not have a non-display GPS watch.

    This is a really contraproductive decision made by the IOF. In my opinion, IOF should aim for making our sport more attractive. And letting the top athletes share their route choices with their fans world-wide certainly makes the sport more attractive and visible. Banning them to do so is NOT attractive.

    What’s next? Forcing top athletes to stay in some kind of quarantine the months preceding a big race just to make sure that they won’t cheat by visiting embargoed areas?

    Let’s face it. Orienteering is, and will be, a sport based on fair play and gentlemen’s agreement. I hope rule 21.3 will be canceled as soon as possible.

  8. May be it’s time to interview runners and national team about rule 21.3 and prepare petition for change this rule.

  9. TrackerFanatic

    I’m quite sure some teams complained about other runners wearing their own GPSes during WOC last year, and that it was discussed on the team leaders’ meeting.

  10. @petty: I’d say magnifier glass, contact lenses and glasses are also navigational aids (for the ones who need one of those aids at least) – so I guess they are banned too…? :-)

  11. Any watch is now banned, for a sevaral reasons:

    – most runners know how far they can run per time unit. Any equipment that measures time could therefore aid navigation, and is banned.

    – Provided you can spot the sun (during daytime orienteering), or the stars (night-o), a watch is an excellent navigational aid.

    I would also suggest that IOF do a follow-up and change a few other rules to ensure fairness:

    §26.1 “The competitors shall be as quite as possible in the terrain” should change to “To avoid outburst of pleasure when control is found, duct tape must cover mouth at all times durin a race”.

    §26.3 “Obtaining assitance from other runners … is strictly forbidden” should change to “If you happen to see another runner, you should immidiately turn around 180 degrees and flee, to avoid the risk that they may be tempted to tell you the direction to the next control, either vocally or through telepathy”.

    §26.4 “Doping is forbidden” should change to “Carrying or beeing in the vicinity of any substance that can be potentially beeing beneficial to performance is forbidden, thus, visiting a pharmacy is strictly forbidden. Visiting a doctor will also bee regarded as an attemt at cheating. See enclosed list of mushrooms on the green list – running closer than 15 meters to any other mushroom during training or competition is considered a major violation of the anti-doping rules.

    §… I could go on, but it started getting boring long time ago. Mats Troeng concludes well in his last paragraph above.

    Common sense is also a great aid navigating the real jungle as well as the jungle of rules (and rule making). It may seem like IOF started off with a self-imposed ban on this most importent aid.

  12. I don’t see a problem in completely banning the use and carry of these Garmin & Co.-watches. They are no use anyway (besides of saving a runner from drawing his route himself and the ground-breaking insight that one runs slower uphill :-P)

    But somehow I wonder, what the idea behind changing use into use or carry is.

    It seem to be the hard thinking work of the Foot O Commission approved by the IOF Council, but it makes little sense to me.

    Maybe they just want to avoid subtle discussion of the kind I carry one, but I don’t use it

  13. Eva Jurenikova

    These rule changes were discussed and proposed already in January, at “IOF Rules Commission” Meeting in Helsinki.
    Then IOF Council
    approved the proposals in May or April.

    I doubt any elite runner uses a GPS watch as a navigational tool during an orienteering race, but it is a great tool for after-race analysis, especially when OuickRoute is used.
    This new rule is a step back for orienteering.

  14. Jan>> Glasses & contacts I don’t agree on – orienteering in it’s normal form is a seeing-persons sport. There isn’t a variation for blind persons and as such aids for poor-sighted persons must be permitted as acceptable. I doubt almost any other sport would have rules regarding such accessories.

    New disipline: Blind-fold orienteering; navigate by touch, sound, smell & taste! ;-)

    But magnifying glasses are an interesting point…!

    I have for over 20 years used my watch at times to see how long along a leg I have run – especially through vague terrain on legs which are 2-5 mins long. Maybe JI is right :-P

  15. Is this a joke?

  16. @Eva: I didn’t catch that in January – thanks for pointing it out.

  17. I, an everyday forerunner 405 user, really hope that all polar watches with an altimeter and all suunto watches will be banned too. And maybe some of the best runners too, because they seem to have a built in gps in them.

  18. I’d say clearly allowing logger type gps units would be a step forward.

    Why you so badly want to have a display? GPS units without display doesn’t costs more than $60 and are equally accurate and more lightweight than these old school wrist units.

  19. @jagge: As it is impossible to use logger type GPS units without a screen for navigation, they are clearly not banned by this rule – but I agree that an explicit amendment would not hurt.

    Note that there are data-loggers with a small display as well, which gives you some info, like e.g. the Holux M-241 which has an odometer function. These are banned by the rule.

  20. Maybe semantics, but can (carrying) a GPS with display really be considered a navigational aid? While on the run, trying to read and make use of any of the GPS features would really slow you down, and the unit can be categorized as a navigational “disadvantage”! Especially for an elite runner.

    Of course, being able to read the timer can be an aid on long legs (monitoring distance). Alhough I don’t really think banning watches is what the IOF Rules Commission has in mind, the term “navigational aids” opens up a perpetual discussion on what is allowed and what not.

    Semantics aside, I endorse the entries of Mats Troeng and Eva Jurenikova. Imposing bureaucratic bans like this is counterproductive.

  21. As a daily Forerunner 405 user I certainly don’t like this. Forerunner 405 also collects heart rate data, which is definitely useful to observe after races. Of course, the gps can be switched off of the 405, but it can just as easily be turned on in the forest.

    The gps -route offers a LOT more than just the fact that one runs slower upphill than downhill; how many seconds did you really stand and wonder where the heck I am, or for example how many seconds it really takes you to punch and leave at a control.

    Pace data also shows you how fast you run on road (for example in the middle of a race) as it’s fairly inaccurate what a person feels his pace is.

    This rule affects though only World Ranking Events and I don’t think local clubs even think about searching runners for GPS -devices prior to local races.

  22. I started using Forerunner 405 this year and i have to admit I never used it during the race as a navigational aid or something more. After the race I used all the benefits of it and suggested it to all runners in my club so they can improve their orienteering due to fact of better analizing the route, speed etc. It is quite usefull also when you put it on kids who oftetn do not know what they did in the forest.
    This rule is really step beck in development of our sport, back to stone age and drawing our routes with pencil.
    Hopefully somebody in IOF will see what mistake they made.

  23. Stupid IOF!

    I’m going to use my Forerunner watch all events.

    I think we should ignore this rule!

  24. GPS and Quickroute is the best thing ever developed for the O-Sport.
    Ignore the rule since so many persons have already investigated in a GPS watch with display and no one use it as a navigation tool! Even if we were allowed to use GPS watch during run, I see no benefits using it, beside compass and map.
    Maybe in some mountain orienteering I would use the altitude.

    So the rule from IOF is not good.

  25. If the IOF does not reason; maybe this rule can be “neutralised” by the appling WRE-organisers?
    From the WRE Handbook 2009 http://www.orienteering.org/i3/index.php?/iof2006/content/download/2106/9668/file/WRE%20Handbook%202009.pdf

    “Rule Deviations: as a general rule, any requests for rule deviations should be included in the application to host the relevant event. Only in very exceptional cases will a rule deviation be granted at a later stage and, in all cases, the Council or the General Assembly is the decisive body. Rule 2.11 states “the IOF Council may allow deviations from these rules and norms. Requests for permission to deviate from them shall be sent to the IOF Secretariat at least 6 months prior to the event.” The consent of the IOF Event Adviser is needed too.”

    Are there any major events next year that the IOF really wants to be WRE that have the nerve to ask for 21.3 to be not applicable?

  26. Garmin Forerunner 305 for sale!
    Only used for a few months…Great Condition!! Comes with original box…

    Aren’t there more important things to think about in the IOF?

    I can only see a very little possibility of using these GPS wathes as an aid during an orienteering race – only when you are completly lost and just want to find your way back to the finish… But more importantly, I think that baning the usage of these should have been enough.

    Nothing wrong with IOF trying to make our sport as fair as possible but this pice of rule just has very little effect on fairplay and on the other hand the whole GPS technology has big potencial in the sport’s developement.
    I would almost say that limiting their usage is more unfair than their possible usage as an aid! Just imagine runners from less developed O-countries who have now lost important oportunities to analyse their routes in “real” races.

    One could of course say that simple GPS data loggers without displays are still allowed but I think that very many of us already has these wathes. This rule is just a “pain in the ass”.

  27. Hell-O! I’ve been waiting for this decision to come. Not because it’s for any good, but for the reason it will some day be done. What I recall, “the debate” started already in 2005, when one photo of Emil was published after his victory in the World Champs sprint. Back in Japan, Emil had covered his Polar’s screen with sports tape. There was nothing bad that he made it that way, and interpreted that manner to be his way to be fair and honest to himself and to other competitors.

    In my case, the actions have been quite the similar. I’ve turned off the altitude options of Polar in races, to be honest at least to myself. Due to that, I have missed some important “coaching-information” concerning altitude changes, but only a little. I don’t really know if there would be use of altitude information in most of the important races, but back in Ukraine 2000 classic distance, there would have been (lots of techinical elevation challenges on that race). But the sport has to be fair, so in that point of view the IOF’s decision is right. You don’t really know, if some has studied the way to use the screen to aid one’s performance.

    As a coach I’m very sad about this news. Even if it’s fair now, I think it has been fair all the time. And now we are missing the most important coaching-information if the organizers don’t offer devices for the races. The trainings are by far the most important events to analyze, but you should also have data about your performance on highly stressed and demanding situation as in an international event.

    I’ll get my new Polar stuff this week, and it’s not nice to tell them that I can’t be using Quickroute in the races. I think they would especially like that to be happened, but the rules are rules. Bad rules.


  28. After pondering this for a day I believe this new rule is OK and should not be cancelled. And about time to ban these devices, it is so easy to use some current wrist gps units for cheating.

    Note, you can still log routes by using gps loggers without lcd screen. Some athletes may have to get/buy $60 gps logger, shuold not be a big deal, and Quickroute can still be used as well as any other post race analysis tools.

  29. Graeme Ackland

    Seems inevitable. These GPS watches (with a GPS map) will now get you clear relocation in about 20sec. Not quite useful for the top elites, but already a reassuring back-up for WRE participants like me. And it’s obviously going to get faster as time goes on – IOF will have to ban it eventually (or accept it as a legitimate navigational tool). So it makes sense to do it now, before someone invents a pocket-scanner to convert control circles to GPS coordinates.

  30. Maybe it’s time to build an own GPS watch for orienteering purposes, like this one:


  31. Somebody knows gps units without lcd screen with a heart rate monitor?

  32. The main problem with this rule is that for example I have already purchased a Garmin Forerunner 405, which is a heart rate monitor AND a GPS receiver. If I can’t keep it with me (if I ever get to run any WRE races or if the Finnish orienteering federation decides to implement this rule also), then I have to buy a separate feart rate monitor!

    A gps receiver is not that big of an investment, that is true. For around 60 €uros you’ll get a myLogger that’s really accurate and gives the same data as a Forerunner. Without the heart rate data of course.

    In a nut shell: I want to have one device that does what I wannt! Because I already have it!

    + Every device needs it’s own software and not every manufacturer support every operating system and same cables etc. I have a Macintosh computer and Garmin is by far the only wrist computer manufacturer that supports Mac OS X. Do I have to buy a new computer too to obey this rule?!

    A forerunner (or similar) can’t display any maps, so the gps co-ordinates are useless. I don’t believe that a gps -watch can be used for cheating until someone shows me. In additions: most end-user gps receivers are not accurate enough for sprint races, nor will they find any controls for you. The sport is still orienteering and the only way to the top is by training.

    I’m getting pretty agitated here!

  33. With GPS receiver and separate heart rate monitor impossible get track with heart rate in Quickroute.

  34. Jeremy Wilde

    I suggest to Mats Troeng that it shouldn’t be too difficult to devise a cheap tamper-detect and opaque envelope in which to place a GPS watch thus rendering it to all intents and purposes a non-display model. Long live QuickRoute!

  35. Contrary to what is stated in the first paragraph of Jan’s article above, it is not permitted to run with ANY TYPE(!) of GPS tracking device at Jukola.

    See rules: http://www.jukola2009.net/english/competition_instructions/announcements/jarjestelytiedotteet/competition_instructions.html (last line of GPS TRACKING section).

    …not even a logger!!!

    …will we see disqualifications of those bloggers who post routes after Jukola? Presumably once the results become “official” (a few hours after the race) and the protest time-limit has expired it’s not possible, but if the Jukola organisers are feeling particularly evil they could do it!

  36. Not all tecnological advances should be embraced as inevitable and unavoidable for the sport.

    As an analogy one can think of what the new head lamps has done to night orienteering.
    In my opinion night orienteering has lost its fascination as a special discipline with the use of (and the permision to use) high level lumen light bulbs.
    When this was assessed by national federations it was argued that this cannot be controlled and therefore had to be permitted. (With both the argument and the conclusion being wrong).

    Similarly the argument that GPS-watches exist and many people already having purchased one does not imply that we as a sport cannot decide that the use of them should be banned for the sake of protecting some fundamental values.

  37. I think this rule is very reasonable. Just as quickly as you can look at a leg on a hillside and see that you have to climb 2 contours, or drop 10 contours, you can look at your watch and note your current altitude. And GPS technology is likely to only get faster and more clever. Orienteering is about navigating with a map and compass, and nothing else.

    Because this rule only applies to IOF races you can still use your usual watch in most races and in training. In my opinion it is more important after the race to know that the competition was fair, rather than to know what your heart-rate was or your GPS track.

  38. All the hints about getting an advantage of GPS watch during an orienteering race are welcome. As it is still permitted in smaller competitions, I hope to get big advantage over those disadvantaged ones who doesn’t have a GPS watch yet. :)

    Regarding the GPS devices without the display, maybe it’s possible in the future to integrate GPS receiver into the new models of SI and EMIT units.

    About Jukola rule: It is not allowed for the competitor to use his own tracking devices.
    As this sentence is following the part of the rule where is described how the organisers will give tracking devices to the top teams, it seems logical to me that this sentence also regards only those top teams who will get organisers tracking devices.
    But of course without the context it’s clear enough that nothing is allowed. But the organisers know best what they meant by that rule.

  39. :-) At some of these watches you have ‘the guy in front’ as a pacemaker-function, but there for sure is little use for it while you got ‘a guy in front’ in real orienteering life. :-)

    Call me awkward, but being sophisticated towards GPS and doing so little against packs at the same time seems rather inappropriate to me.

    I agree with Jakob and Anna.

  40. @Tarmo re Jukola: The Swedish language news explicitly disallows all GPS devices.

  41. All the hints about getting an advantage of GPS watch during an orienteering race are welcome

    Get a Forerunner 205/305. Ask your friend who starts early run with it and take splits at every control. It may be someone at in other class but who runs the same course. Then as a late starter run with the same gps unit. Use the map mode, so you’ll see map of your contols (even numbered right) and your own location and track so far. Let the screen guide you to the control if you are unsure or when you think you are about to make mistake. Like this you will avoid most mistakes and will not lose time for hesitating. Easy and simple way to cheat since spring 2006.

  42. When the best runners in the world started to share the real track they run, the IOF forbids the watch GPS! It’s really sad news for those who want to learn from the elit orienteerers and from their own mistakes.
    I have been using a Garmin Forerunner for a couple of years and I never never never found it as an advantage since I would loose more time trying to cheat than reading the map.

    I really hope this rule is cancelled!

  43. The answer is simple!
    Participants with this kind of equipment register it before start. Then officials stick nontransparent sticker on the screen. If it is damaged or removed- participant should be disqualified.

    Another option is to allow use this equipment to carry on leg not on wrist position- it will be to uncomfortable to follow screem in this way:)

    If there are problem then there are always simple solution!