Life after Corona – taking the IOF forward

by Leho Haldna, IOF President


I am lucky – lucky because I’ve followed the development of IOF through almost 27 years. My first IOF Congress was back in 1994 in the role of President of the Estonian OF. In 2002 I was elected to the IOF Council, and one way or another I have been part of all decisions, good and not so good, since then.

 Is 60 the new 40?

Our perceptions of ageing have changed over the last few generations. Reaching the age of sixty no longer means a peaceful retirement where everything in life is stable. Orienteering is a sport that is over 120 years old, and the international federation is celebrating its 60th anniversary. However our sport is not yet mature, at least we orienteers don’t think it is. Over the last 10 years we have significantly changed our international competition programme, and added new competition formats in all disciplines.

The formal decision on the IOF international competition programme for the future was taken in 2016. It was a very ambitious decision, but its implementation has been a real challenge. We have clearly overestimated our ability to implement a programme with such a high number and frequency of competitions. Our ambitions are high regarding the number of events, but our members and organisers haven’t the financial and human resources to support our current ambitious event calendar. This is particularly the case in our smaller disciplines, SkiO, MTBO and TrailO, and less so for FootO.

Unlucky with Sprint WOC – but KO-Sprint a great new format

We have been very unlucky with the implementation of the new, split World Championship model in FootO. The Norwegian OF organised a very successful traditional WOC in 2019, and we planned for the first Sprint WOC in 2020 in Denmark.  Because of the pandemic we have postponed this to 2022 and as an intermediate step, WOC in 2021 will include urban and forest medal events.

When we decided to organise a Sprint WOC, we had at that time only two existing sprint formats, and we set a goal that we shall create a third format. Today the new competition format, Knock-Out Sprint, is already in the World Cup programme. In my opinion Knock-Out Sprint is the most attractive format for TV, and has great potential to be IOF’s premier competition format.  On the other hand, this is the most challenging format to organise and has limited potential outside elite orienteering.

Transparent governance

The international competition programme is the most visible part of IOF activities. However IOF is actively working in different directions. Our goal is to serve our members, and not only to serve but to do so transparently. IOF has made great progress in this regard, and according to the results of the independent governance evaluation report on sport organisations, IOF is the best federation among non-Olympic sports federations. But we must not rest on our laurels, we must move on. We have significantly improved our communication with members, and held consultations on important issues.

This approach has certainly improved the quality of decisions made by General Assembly, Council and the Office. Transparency, open communication and wide consultation has come to stay. I hope that in the next 10 years we are able to achieve gender, age and geographical balance in our organisation.

The recovery process has begun

Covid-19 did irreparable damage to the entire sporting world, especially to elite sport. We will see in the future how big the damage has been for Orienteering, but it is a fact that there were no major IOF events for 346 days. On the other hand Orienteering is a big recreational sport, and we have noted a positive impact of the outbreak in many member countries. Social distancing and Orienteering have an almost perfect fit, and I would like to believe that we will have more recreational orienteers in the future.  I hope that the international competition calendar will recover in a few years, but probably it will no longer be at the same level. We need to be realistic, and make changes to our ambitious plans.

Looking forward – focusing on our Strategic Directions and Goals

 The IOF General Assembly in 2018 approved an updated Vision, Mission, Main Goal, Values and Strategic Directions. The keyword is attractiveness; our vision is that Orienteering is the most attractive adventure-based sport for all ages. We promote the global growth of Orienteering and develop competitive and recreational Orienteering. Our main goal is to increase the attractiveness of Orienteering to participants and to external partners, so as to be included in the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Our Strategic Directions and Goals are connected by two words, sustainable growth. We should always remember that we have limited financial and human resources in IOF, and we need to adapt our goals and activities accordingly.

Focus on education in our values-based sport

Fairness and following Fair Play rules are extremely important for our sport. Orienteering is a values-based sport, and we can do better in communicating our values in different languages and to different cultures. We are a global sport and need to follow the same values globally; our Fair Play and competition rules need to be clear, and supported by an education programme for athletes and all stakeholders.

In general, the organisation of education and training is extremely important for IOF in the coming years. We have agreed that IOF will provide educational programmes for members and individuals, mainly using digital channels.

We do not seek out new members at any price; we are looking more for the growth of real activity in all our member federations. IOF continues to monitor the situation globally, and we support organisations who want to join IOF by providing education and know-how.

 A realistic event programme – now also recognising E-formats

Our competition programme must be attractive and realistic for members who organise and send teams to IOF events. The IOF flagship is WOC, our premier event and I would say the only event with a great potential to reach millions of TV viewers.  We need to work hard together with event organisers to ensure a stable quality at WOC. Orienteering is a complicated sport, and the smallest technical issue in mapping or course setting has a big impact on fairness.

In 2020 we amended our statutes so that IOF now recognises all forms of virtual/electronic Orienteering activities and competitions related to FootO, SkiO, MTBO and TrailO. There are many e-orienteering participants and a decent number of competitions across the world.  We need to agree on IOF’s role in virtual/electronic Orienteering as it develops further. E-formats will support the development of Orienteering globally, and can help us to reach new target groups and countries.


I would like congratulate all our members on the 60th birthday of our organisation, the International Orienteering Federation! I thank everyone who has contributed to the development of the IOF and I wish us all success for the future!