Significant changes will be introduced in the WOC program from 2014 – or even earlier – but the only thing which is certain is that more races will have a format in which the first runner to the finish is the winner. During the XXV IOF General Assembly held in conjunction with the WOC in Trondheim, Norway, the IOF presented a report on future directions for WOC – and the IOF Council will now continue to develop a detailed programme. The future WOC program should be important for all orienteers, because it will form orienteering as we see it as a sport.
After the first articles came out after the IOF General Assembly at orientering.no, orientering.se and later also at the IOF website, there have been a lot of speculations and discussions in the orienteering community about the future WOC program (see e.g. alternativet.nu, attackpoint.org, Nopesport, OPN.no). The discussions are partly wild, and partly based on information which is not fully correct. In this article I will summarize the facts, and discuss possible realistic options based on discussions with people close to the matter. At the end of the article I’ll put up my wishes for the future WOC program – and open for discussion.
At the 2010 IOF General Assembly, the IOF Council presented a report (the content of which has not been published, being one of the reasons for all the speculations) made by a work group emanated from the results of the IOF project “Evaluation of Elite Events” (EEE), which was initiated following the 2008 IOF General Assembly. The topic of the report was the future direction of WOC for 2014 and beyond. This report was not provided for decision making, but to inform the federations of the work done and to get feedback for the continued work. The key points in the report are given at the IOF website,
- The WOC programme should diversify
- The WOC week should remain within 8 days
- A new, mixed, relay should be introduced.
In addition to the Council’s report, the General Assembly agenda also included another item relating to the future WOC programme, namely Norway’s proposal to introduce a mass start and this proposal was decided for. Based on discussions I have had with people close to the process, even if the statement says “mass start”, it could instead be a “chasing start” if that format is better suited based on the considerations to be made.
The Council will now continue to develop a detailed program in the coming year, including in which format the mass start will be introduced. The future of the WOC program will then be decided during the WOC in 2011 in France.
I have received a copy of the report. A central point for the report is that “events need to be made easier to understand and appreciated and more exciting to watch” in order to further raise the profile and visibility of orienteering and to “gather wider interest from “outsiders” and the larger sports community“. I have also discussed with people close to the process, and can thus elaborate further on the three key points from the report (see below).
Key point 1: The WOC programme should diversify
Behind this statement lies that individual start competitions must be complemented by race formats where first-to-finish is the winner. According to the report, “such development will introduce new challenges to a traditional concept and address the ambition to further raise the spectator and media values of WOC”.
This statement is based on the thought that first-to-finish race formats are easier to understand for the (non-orienteering) viewer, and may be made for interesting for TV. Today one of four gold medals (i.e. 25% of the medals) is awarded in a race format where the first runner to the finish is the winner. Based on my discussions with people close to the process – and on the report – there is little doubt that this percentage will be increased in the future WOC program.
My understanding is that there are currently three main ways to introduce first-to-finish winner disciplines,
- A mass start – either replacing the long distance or as a new discipline. The length of the mass start could be anything from 45 minutes to 90 minutes. If the winning time is significantly more than an hour, it would probably have to replace the long distance. The start field would have to be reduced significantly from the 100+ participants for each sex in the WOC, probably by some kind of qualification race (see discussion below regarding the length of WOC), as a smaller startfield (30-40 starters) gives less demands for the forking system. A forking system would have to (1) be able to split up runners to some extent and (2) be easily understandable by TV/spectator regarding which runners is in the lead – no easy task. Discussions I have had indicate that forked loops would maybe be a viable forking system, but the forked loops would have to be relatively short with a long unforked loop at the end of the race – TV typically starting the broadcast towards the end of the unforked loops
- A chasing start. The most promising candidate for a chasing start might be to have a prologue of around 25 minutes in the morning (all 100+ runners in the same course), and a chasing start of 25-30 minutes based on the results of the prologue with the 30-40 best runners in the afternoon/evening (note that there might be time problems with a 2 minute start interval prologue in the morning for all runners in the same course). The prologue could also be used as a qualification race for the middle distance. A chasing start gives somewhat less demand regarding the forking system, and also gives several advantages for TV as there is (1) interesting TV pictures at the start and at each control for a longer time due to the spreading in the chasing start and (2) possible to use a less complicated forking system.One could also have a chasing start based on results from e.g. the middle distance final, but some do not like to award a gold medal and in addition have a big advantage towards another gold medal. A third option would be to replace the middle distance with a chasing start.
- A KnockOut sprint – similar to the concept introduced in the Nordic Orienteering Tour in Stockholm this spring. With better TV coverage and possibly also with a very simple forking system, this concept could prove very interesting for TV. If a KnockOut sprint is introduced in the WOC program, it is probable that it would replace the sprint as we know it in the WOC program of today.
Based on my understanding, it is improbable that all three first-to-finish winner disciplines will be introduced into the WOC program, but there is a chance that either a mass start or a chasing start is introduced – in addition to replacing today’s sprint with a KnockOut sprint.
Key point 2: The WOC week should remain within 8 days
Based on the report, it is an absolute that the WOC week remains within 8 days, i.e. all finals and qualification races must be held within these 8 days – but the program regarding which day which discipline is organized will have to vary due to local conditions.
The report says nothing about the number of finals / medal disciplines to be included in the future WOC program, but it is my clear understanding that there will be maximum one extra set of gold medals awarded in the WOC week, i.e. maximum one extra final.
Also, it is my understanding that the interest of the smaller nations will be important in forming the future WOC program, i.e. there should probably not be less disciplines to run for runners who today are fighting for a place in the A-finals at WOC. Thus it is improbable that qualification races will be removed in order to use WRE-points or World Cup standings to qualify directly to WOC finals. On the contrary, it is more probable that one will introduce qualification races where all runners run the same course (like in the prologue for chasing start and KnockOut sprint described above) where all runners will get a WOC result in the end rather than only getting a qualification result.
Key point 3: A new, mixed, relay should be introduced
In the report, it is concluded that the relay format used at the World Games, consisting of mixed teams with two women and two men, should be part of the future WOC program. Based on both the report and discussions I have had, it seems clear that if the mixed relay is introduced, it will replace the WOC relay format of today, as there is only room for one team competition at WOC.
The reason for wanting to replace the relay competitions with a mixed relay seems to be based on (1) positive feedback from the IOC after World Games, (2) the format is believed to be TV/media friendly and (3) the mixed relay competition is said to be an advantage for the smaller nations who might not have a good team with 3 women / 3 men, but have better chances in a mixed relay with 2 women + 2 men.
Based on discussions I have had with people close to the TV production, there are three possibilities for the relay competition in the future,
- Introduce the mixed relay (World Games type format or similar)
- Keep todays relay format, but decrease the leg lengths to around 30 minutes for each leg (as in NOC relay last year)
- Keep todays relay format with leg lengths as today
According to what I have been told, only the two first options are realistic alternatives, as the relay format of today with two long legs in the end is not deemed to be TV-friendly as the total time of the relay is too long. It thus seems like either the mixed relay as suggested in the report from the IOF Council or a shorter variant of today’s relay are the realistic options for the future. A change to a mixed relay format might be difficult to “sell” to the orienteering community which is generally quite conservative.
My personal opinions
Above I tried to give some objective insight into the probable future for the WOC program based on discussions with people close to the decision process – and based on the report from the IOF. I will now finish this article with my personal opinions about the WOC of the future – along with some discussions.
First a few words about orienteering as a TV sport based on experience from WOC 2010 in Trondheim – as this is also important for the discussion about the WOC program for the future. I had some interesting discussions with the NRK commentary for WOC 2010, Arild Andersen, who said that he actually liked the long distance format best for TV, as there is time to explain the route choices and what is happening. However, if the start interval is increased to 3 minutes, the startfield would have to be reduced. The sprint did not work too well – as it was too hectic, and it was difficult to use the GPS tracking. The middle distance was also a bit hectic regarding the possibility to use the GPS tracking actively. Andersen was also a bit skeptical towards how it would be possible to make a mass start interesting TV. As far as I could understand, you would have to have a lot of cameras to follow the runners in an acceptable part of the course – making it very costly. However, the idea of a chasing start with a 25 minute prologue in the morning and a 30-35 minute chasing start in the afternoon was met with a very positive attitude by Andersen. I have also heard that NRK has got a lot of positive feedback for the use of GPS tracking in the WOC broadcasts – and I have also got very positive feedback from non-orienteers who I know who have watched part of the WOC broadcasts.
Down to my suggestions for the future WOC program:
- Suggestion 1: Split the WOC into two parts – a “Sprint WOC” and a “Distance WOC” – each organized biennially
As far as I am aware of, splitting the WOC into two parts has not been part of the discussions within the IOF. In my opinion, there are several advantages by splitting the WOC into two parts. (1) There will be room for both the traditional long distance and a mass start/chasing start event. (2) The mixed relay can be part of the Sprint WOC and one relay for each gender can be part of the “Distance WOC”. (3) Both a KnockOut sprint, a traditional sprint (possibly also both city sprint and forest sprint) and a sprint relay can be introduced into the program – disciplines which are easier to master for the less developed orienteering nations (4) The Sprint WOC will be easier to organize for less developed orienteering nations, making it easier to spread orienteering to new nations.
I have discussed this suggestion (which is not originally mine) with some who have said that if one should do a splitting into two WOCs, they should both be organized every year. I would rather have them every second year, in order to get full focus on both WOCs by all runners – also from the less developed orienteering nations.
- Suggestion 2: Keep the long distance as it is – change start interval to 2 minutes for first 25 starters
The long distance discipline has excellent TV potential when the GPS tracking is further developed. A 3 minute start interval for all starters might be a challenge seen from a TV standpoint, but why not use a start interval of 2 minutes for the first 25-30 starters and 3 minutes start interval for the rest of the start field?
- Suggestion 3: The first-to-finish winner discipline to be introduced should be chasing start
In my opinion, of the different options for a first-to-finish winner disciplines, the chasing start with a ~25 minute prologue in the morning and a ~25-30 minute chasing start in the afternoon/evening is the best option. It is easier to make to work for TV than the mass start, it is easier to make a forking system which works adequately, and it contains more of the real orienteering element than a mass start.
- Suggestion 4: Keep the separate gender relays
I don’t like the idea of removing the separate gender relays. The only good way to introduce the mixed relay would – in my opinion – be to split the WOC in two parts as suggested above.
- Suggestion 5: Keep the middle distance as it is – or shorten its length down to 25-30 minutes
Even if the feedback from Andersen was not entirely positive for the middle distance, it has been very tight and exciting the last years – and it should be possible to use the GPS tracking even better to show the excitement in a good way. It could be a possibility to shorten its length somewhat
- Suggestion 6: The sprint
The KnockOut sprint is an interesting format, but it is not yet fully developed and ready for prime time. The ideal option would in my opinion to split the WOC in two parts, and have both a traditional sprint and a KnockOut-sprint. However, it this is not possible, I think there is not enough information yet to conclude.
Thanks for reading all the way through until the end. Please use the comments below to discuss my suggestions. I am very open for changing my opinions – the best way to develop the sport is through open discussions about the future, and getting out the opinions of both the elite and the rest of the orienteering community.