27 years with World Ranking and WMOCs: David May retires from the FootO Commission

Every single week of the year, orienteering competitions are held around the world in which the IOF plays a greater or lesser role.

Everything from the major international championships in the four IOF disciplines, where there is a several year-long collaboration between advisors and organisers, to hundreds of World Ranking Events in the calendar.

Before, during and after the competitions, a lot of work goes on in the several Commissions under IOF, which you rarely get an insight into when looking at results or photos of the happy winners.

One of the people who has put hundreds of hours into the work behind the scenes is the Brit David May, who is retiring after 27 years in IOF’s Foot Orienteering Commission at the end of this year.

His way into Commission work began in 1997, when the IOF wanted to strengthen interest in its elite events at the level below WOC and World Cup.

World Ranking Events
Before then, there was some concern in IOF Council that the then IOF Elite (IOFE) events were standalone races which were not sufficiently interesting and which needed a greater purpose. Council decided that the way to strengthen them was to make them contribute towards a new ranking system and to label them as “World Ranking Events”.

The technical side of hosting WREs would be straightforward as existing IOFE events could easily be adapted, but how would a World Ranking points calculations work in practice and how could the whole scheme be administered?

Council gave this thorny problem to the first ever meeting of the FootO Committee (as it was then called) to solve!

“David Rosen who was in the Rules Committee, as I think it was called back then, suggested I could help. So I was invited to join the Foot Committee and, after thinking about it for a while, I accepted. It turned out that the first FOC meeting I went to was also the very first meeting of the FootO Committee – it didn’t exist at that point. And we were faced with an agenda with this big item saying: “Start the ranking scheme from scratch”, which is quite a big challenge!! And that’s basically how it started”, David May recalls.

In the years prior to joining IOF, he had worked on creating a ranking system in British Orienteering after proposing changes to the then existing system.

“We had developed a system which became the father of the system we have in IOF now. It coped with different people running at different times in different places and trying to give them points. Any system which says the winner gets 1000 points like the World Cup doesn’t work for a race with a big race in one place and a small race in another place where we’ve got different people running. What we did back in 1998 and 1999 is very similar to what exists today. It’s 95 percent the same”, David May says.

He was one of just five members in the first days of the FootO Committee, which was formed after a restructure of IOF committees in 1997.

In addition to the creation of a new world ranking system, the agenda for the first meeting included among other things:

– How to get orienteering into the Olympics
– Should Park-O become a part of the official IOF programme?
– Should Rogaining be part of the IOF?
– How do we get more IOF Controllers?

As the only native English speaker in the newly formed commission, David May recalls landing the role of taking the minutes in the first years as well as working on implementing the new World Ranking scheme.

Besides creating the calculation model, making the calculation itself and presenting and hosting the ranking was among the major challenges in the work.

But during the World Orienteering Championships in Norway in 1997, David May met a representative from an IT-company (N3Sport) working with sports data. And after some meetings, they agreed on a collaboration so that the ranking list could both be calculated and displayed by N3Sport and in 1999 the new world ranking system was rolled out.

Developing World Masters Orienteering Championships
After a successful launch of the new ranking system David May also took over responsibility for WMOC work, which continued for the rest of his time in the FootO Committee, later FootO Commission.

Having participated in many of the first Veteran World Cups – as the World Masters Orienteering Championships were called until 1998 – it seemed only natural that he took on that task.

“WMOC was on our brief in the committee at that time and because I was the only one who’d had first-hand experience as a competitor, I started to take greater interest in it. There was a championship slated for Asiago in Italy in 2004. So in 2000 I went out to talk to people and was given the brief of basically assessing their bid. That got me thinking that this is something which I could work in. The other thing which occurred to me at that time was: This event has got no manual, no handbook, no guidance. So if you’re doing the event in 2005, there’s no mechanism for finding out what happened in 2004 and learning from experiences. We obviously needed a handbook, and there was only one volunteer to write it! I based it on a World Cup handbook which had been around in the late 1990s, just taking that as the skeleton and adapting it from a WMOC point of view. It started off at about 20 pages and now it’s about 60 to 70 pages and it’s gradually added to year by year”, David May recalls.

Another essential change in the commission’s work to improve the Masters Championships is the introduction of site visits prior to the decision about who will be appointed as organisers.

Previously, future WMOC bidders were allowed to pitch their bids during 20 minutes at a meeting, and this made it difficult to assess which bid was the strongest.

“It was sometimes difficult to judge between two or three different bids when you couldn’t see the terrains in person. We then developed a policy that there would be an assessment visit which would involve spending 2 days with each of the shortlisted bidders in the proposed WMOC terrain, host town/city, etc. We’d then be able to balance the different bids on the basis of first-hand knowledge. You can also get a much better impression of the organisational ability of the people concerned. You’re not just hearing them for 20 minutes giving their best. You’re there”, David May says.

But it is not only the setup behind the championships that has changed over the years.

Until 2008 the WMOC’s consisted of two Qualification races and a Long Distance Final. A Sprint was added to the programme that year, and in 2018 a Middle Distance Final was also added. The current setup is two Qualification races (one Sprint and one forest) and three Finals (Sprint, Middle and Long).

The desire to develop the event can come from different places, but the participants are always consulted before the changes are made, David May says:

“Sometimes a push comes from IOF’s Council. Sometimes the push comes from me. Sometimes a push comes from the rest of the Commission. And sometimes the push comes from the competitors. But you can’t make a change without knowing that the competitors are going to want it. So one of the things that we’ve done over the years is survey competitors after each Masters (WMOC) is over. Asking them what they thought about this, what about the standard of that and so on. One thing we also asked them is: What would you think about adding a new components? Which is what we did about Sprint. And that’s what we did about Middle. And in both cases, there was a positive response. So that gave the green light to go ahead and to get Council’s approval for each added medal race. And Council were very ready to approve.”

IOF Vice President Tom Hollowell presents David May with IOF’s Gold Pin at WMOC 2022 in Italy, which was David’s last SEA role.

Several SEA roles
Apart from site visits and the WMOC-development work, David May has also taken on the role as Senior Event Adviser (SEA) at several WMOCs.

The first was in 2008, when Sprint was implemented at the championships that were hosted in Portugal.

“The great thing was that the Portuguese admitted that they were not experienced in this event and they were very happy to learn from me. So I became a teacher as well as an adviser. My professional job was a teacher as well, so it came naturally to me to pass on information and advice. There was plenty to do, so I found myself staying on longer than planned in each of the pre-event visits and I enjoyed doing that.

That’s how I got into it and I’ve done more SEA roles since then as well. It’s simply because I enjoy WMOC terrifically as a competitor, and I want to try to help the event maintain a standard and develop. And I think both of those things have happened,” David May says.

Getting closer to all IOF events and working closer together with the local organisers is a general thing that has happened in all of the FootO Commission’s work areas since the beginning, David May thinks.

“These days it’s much more hands on in terms of relationship between the Commission and the different events. In the same way that I was hands on with the World Masters, we have members with close relationships with World Cups, World Championships and all the other events too. We’ve got twice the number of members compared with the first meeting I went to help share the load. So the total amount of work that’s done is much greater these days.”

The technological development during the period has also contributed to the Commission’s work and made it easier to plan and make faster decisions.

“So we’re using Teams a lot more, which means you can be more efficient and can have a meeting if some emergency comes up. You can say: Next Wednesday we’ll have a meeting and you do it which wasn’t easily possible before, even by telephone. Much has changed and I think for the better – we’re using technology well and I think we’re more efficient in the way we do things. But it doesn’t mean it was poor in the past, because for the time I thought we worked quite well”, David May says.
[NB “quite well” is a British way of saying “very well”!]

Always an orienteer…
And now, having spent more than a third of his life as a member of the FootO Commission, the time has come to log out of his last Commission meeting.

Earlier this autumn David May was the Controller of a large British orienteering event, which will also be the last task of its kind for him, he predicts.

But you will still be able to find him with a map and a compass in his hands on his way out to hunt down controls.

“I will keep competing. Although you realise the older you get, the slower you get. When I was younger, I would look at the M75s and think: Those doddery old people. They can’t go very fast. Now I’m one of them, I realise what the problems are, but I will continue as long as my fitness allows. I can keep running for an hour, which is more than most people my age can do. So I’m happy with that”, David May concludes.

David May gave his last IOF presentation during the Event Advisers online seminar this November on World Ranking Events.
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