sunnuntai 12. helmikuuta 2017

Open letter concerning the rules of ski-orienteering

European ski-orienteering championships were arranged by SK Vuoksi in Imatra this year. This ESOC (plus JWSOS, EYSOS and WMSOC) was the ski-o event of all times with over 700 participants, magnificent Ukonniemi stadium  as competition center and an enthusiastic atmosphere among the crowd and teams. This year I didn't get to compete myself, there were 8 tougher guys in the Finnish team who earned the honor, but I was there to enjoy the last competition day with relays. Finland had a marvelous ending for home event, with a medal from every single class, three of them gold, one silver and two bronze. The organizer was thanked about a great event by other teams as well and for a good reason too - even though the snow situation was difficult, the courses were good, specially the middle distance was thanked for it's difficulty and technical nature. 

Sadly the middle distance was also a fiasco when it comes to the official results of the men's class. By this I don't mean that some nation would have performed particularly bad or anything like that. Neither it was a fault of the organizer. Most of people know what I'm referring to. The leg 7-8 offered good variety of route-choices. Some athletes found an option that wasn't an option: using the ice of lake Saimaa, which was marked quite clearly forbidden by symbol 301.2 of the up-to-date version of the IOF ISSkiOM (International Specification for Ski-Orienteering Maps). These athletes were - as the rule goes - disqualified for crossing a forbidden area. A protest was made, which is understandable as we're all human and don't always want to recognize our own mistakes made during the race, but when our heads get calm again, we know that we must take responsibility for our actions and errors. Without valid arguments this protest was accepted by the jury.

This picture from the instagram account of the Swedish national team men
(skidohunk) sums well what happened. 

Crossing the forbidden area was not the thing that has upset me. Neither was it the protest that was made. What really makes me feel bad is how jury handled the situation. It is their only job to guarantee that all athletes are in equal position and race is played fairly. Rules about this kind of situation in ski-o aren't too complicated; if some road, track or area is forbidden, you can't use it in the race. The same is applied in all other orienteering sports. Every professional athlete should know the rules (map symbols at least), but if they still happen to cross an out-of-bounds area, there should be a jury that knows the rules and gives a just decision. 

The decision to drop the leg 7-8 out of the race and that way qualify the athletes who had broken the rules was not a just one. It was a crime against those who actually did follow the rules. Situation would be different had there been a major mistake made by the organizer but that was not the case. Excuses are always made by athletes, in this case they were something like this: "It was allowed to ski on the ice in the rest day" (this has got nothing to do with the competition), "In the model event people used the lake" (for your information, the lake was marked in the model maps by the same forbidden-area symbol, so be thankful people don't get disqualified on base of the model event!), "In Mid-Europe we don't have this symbol" (Yes you do, there usually runs a stream or river in the bottom of every valley, and it is marked by exactly the same black line around dark blue), "The lake wasn't dangerous and the symbol indicates it should be dangerous" (The fact remains, that the lake was marked forbidden, and it isn't competitor's task to question the authority of the map. The same goes with the roads: they are marked forbidden because there MAY be car traffic which doesn't mean that car traffic necessarily takes place during the event. That way it is the same conditions for every one!) Yeah, it should have been the same for every one...

By the decision of the jury concerning this particular leg in M21 ESOC middle distance the rule about forbidden areas has been undermined. At least the Finnish team has made a request to the IOF council to fix this matter. If the jury decision remains valid, it practically means that in the future it is allowed to cross any forbidden area in any race and demand that section of the course deleted from the race. Or the organizer has to start explaining in every single event and every single race separately all the map symbols and their meaning for the teams. This hardly seems reasonable. It would be so simple if everyone just checks the list of symbols indicating a forbidden area, and stops making their own evaluations about the rules. Lars Moholdt put it well in the interview after the race: it took half a second to exclude the lake from consideration, since it was clearly forbidden. And if anyway someone is so tired or just doesn't notice and crosses embargoed areas, there is an equitable jury that dares to make right decisions, and the rule breaker suffers the consequences like a proper athlete does.

For the future of ski-orienteering, the best winter sport there is, and for fair play, and for our reputation as a seriously taken sport - please! Put an end to this nonsense.

Santeri Aikio