Thursday, December 19, 2013

Interview: Zoran Milovanovic and the South East European Orienteering Association

The end of 2013 is approaching very fast and it is with great pleasure that we receive Zoran Milovanovic, President of South East European Orienteering Association, for one of the last interviews of the year. Passionately, he helps us to understand the work that is being developed in the vast region, looking towards the future with confidence and optimism.

The Foundation Congress of the South East European Orienteering Association (SEEOA) took place in Belgrade last november. Can you tell me something about the importance of the event?

Zoran Milovanovic (Z. M.) - After the South East European working group was established, in 2008, we grew up to twelve country members. At the beginning of 2012, we started to think about the possibility of organizing a formal institution - our Association -, which would give us more possibilities for future development and acting in the different fields of our sport. This idea came true on 16th November 2013, with the Foundation Congress, in Belgrade, and Serbia will be the SEEOA’s seat for the next coming period until 2018.

What are the main goals of a regional project like SEEOA?

Z. M. - Actually, SEEOA is a sub-regional project. If you see a regional division according to the International Orienteering Federation, one region is Europe, so we have to consider us as a sub-region. It’s something like the COMOF (Mediterranean Orienteering Confederation) or the Nordic Countries Association. All of these organisations deal with orienteering from different perspectives and activities in their own geographical areas. The most important is that cooperation and work could be for the benefit of our sport.

So, you wish that SEEOA’s work can be the unifying element of all this work.

Z. M. - According to the Statute, the SEEOA is open not only to the countries already affiliate to the IOF, but for others as well. Furthermore, in our Association we can affiliate other national organizations which are recognized and do orienteering. So, this is a kind of recruitment step towards the IOF. We’ll accept and include them in all activities and finally we’ll help them in developing, as well as in a future IOF’s membership role. This is a very important goal. On the other hand, we would like to raise other potentials for our sport such as fund raising, marketing and Public Relations, which should result in a better visibility and options for sponsoring our sport. My dream is to attract very soon some big international company that operates in the whole region, and to sell them, for example, the main sponsor’s title of our future South East European Orienteering Championships.

How do you intend to solve the asymmetries between the federations, i.e., between the members where orienteering is well developed, like Italy, and those where our sport is almost insignificant, like Greece, for example?

Z. M. - It’s not easy to say. But maybe it won’t be necessary, just to manage how to do our way together. To listen to the questions and needs from all sides and then to find solutions, we hope this is the way and this is what we are trying to do within all our initiatives. In our work, we need to follow and satisfy all our members, developed and non-developed. Otherwise, we’ll see some of them leaving us. Sometimes, our needs are pretty much different one's from the others', so it’s not an easy task to deal with it. But, let me give you just a few good examples: We have Bulgaria, where Ski-O is very well developed. In the last two winters we made Ski-O training camps for our region in Bulgaria with the help of the Bulgarian Orienteering Federation. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see those many people attending the Training camps, but we will continue with these initiatives. We had a similar example this year, in Croatia, with Trail O. We all know that Croatia, even though it's a small orienteering nation, has a very developed and successful Trail-O team. With the great support of the SEEOA’s Vice President, Damir Gobec, and Ivana Gobec, we had two very successful Trail-O seminars, in Croatia and Turkey. These examples of cooperation and share of knowledge in our region raise our strengths and fasten our development.

In what way does the SEEOA articulate with the European Working Group and the International Orienteering Federation?

Z. M. - In this scope, we can see a lot of our members directly involved in the IOF works: Tatiana Kalenderoglu, from Turkey, and Maria Silvia Viti, from Italy, as IOF Council members, and also the Turkish Veysel Gule, in the European Working Group. Then, within several IOF Commissions and working groups, we have members and representatives from our region. I think that all of them, in a different way, are helpful for the IOF and to the development of our sport not only in the region. Our work strictly follows the directions and the IOF Rules, but we are also trying to do our contribution when important issues of our development are on the table. During the last few years, our work and some developing projects were also supported and recognized by the IOF. I would like to remind that some of the latest IOF members came from our region - Cyprus, Montenegro - and some others are knocking at the door, like Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina and probably some more. So, we consider ourselves as a strong and active partner with the same goals: to have orienteering as a truly global sport, visible, attractive and included in the Olympic Games.

And what about COMOF? Can its projects also be the SEEOA’s projects or are we talking about two different realities here?

Z. M. - Yes, I think so. Even if, in some fields, we must consider very often, for example when we are talking about the projects for the Youth. But, still, the Confederation of Mediterranean Orienteering Federations has one very important strategic task, pretty specific: to involve orienteering sport into the Mediterranean Games (which will be held in Tarragona, Spain, in 2017), as well as into the newest Mediterranean Beach Games, of which the first edition will be held in Pescara, Italy, in 2015. And we all know how the Mediterranean Games and its movement is very well established into the Olympic movement. So I consider this step as one big step towards the Olympics as well.

We are talking about projects, you mentioned earlier the South East European Orienteering Championships... What kind of event is this one?

Z. M. - We started in 2011 with our first South East European Orienteering Championships, in Macedonia, and then the second one in 2012, in Turkey, together with the first South East European Masters Orienteering Championships. This year, in September, we had in Romania the South East European Orienteering Championships’ third edition and in 2014 it will be in Serbia and in Bulgaria, the next year. These events are now well established and more and more nations and competitors are coming for it. If you consider that this is not only an event anymore but really an international competition in our region, where some of our nations can afford to send national teams, then you see how important this can be. Not to mention that the format of these events take into account the control of costs as well, so we are proud to say that our organizers manage to prepare a four day program where the total costs for one competitor in a team is around 250-300 euro, including transport, accommodation, food, as well as entry fees. We have also adopted our Rules in order to encourage new nations to come and compete, because no one is returning home without points. We need to get our network together, looking forward to the results of our work and cooperation, and to find our space under the orienteering umbrella, which I think is the IOF. Of course, nobody should be concerned about their own autonomy, because this is not a question.

The World Cup 2014’s first round in Turkey, the EYOC 2014 in Macedonia, the WOC/WTOC 2014 in Italy, these are just three major events that will attract to the Eastern Europe, next year, the world’s attentions. How do you see the challenge of such organizations and what may it represent to the SEEOA and to the region?

Z. M. - And the fourth one is JWOC 2014, which will be held in the beautiful landscapes of Borovets, in Bulgaria, also in our region. In 2015, another country from the SEEOA region will host the EYOC, which will be Romania, in Cluj, not to forget that Croatia was recently approved as organizer of the WTOC, to be held in 2015, and the World School Sport Orienteering Championships will take place in Turkey, also in 2015. So it's a lot of work for our members in the next two years at the world orienteering stage. All of them are honored to host these major events, but they are also stressed out, knowing how important it can be for their future development and how important it is that everything goes normaly and at the highest level, like everywhere in Europe. In our Association, we do cooperate and try to exchange our best experts in a field of mapping, course planning, etc. Communication and cooperation, this is what we are trying to improve within our sub-regional work.

How do you see the level of your organizations?

Z. M. - A lot of orienteers from abroad leave us very positive opinions about orienteering in our countries, based on the participation in our events. They want to visit new places and try diferent terrains, but we need to provide good standards in our events, which is very important. I hope that more new countries from our region will come soon to the stage to be able to host some other major events. I am sure that orienteers from all over the world will like it. I already know that our events are very well known as very friendly, for the hospitality, and people have enjoyed the time spend in our events, such as for example: Velik Den and Brown Cup from Bulgaria, Kopaonik Open in Serbia, Istanbul 5 days in Turkey, Transylvania Open in Romania, Croatia Open in Croatia, as well as some events which recently started in Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, etc. Of course there are a lot more than those I have just mentioned, and we are looking forward to meet you, so you're welcome!

Would you like to share with us, as the President of the SEEOA, a little bit of your agenda for 2014?

Z. M. - We will start our work with the next Council Meeting, which will be held in Montenegro, from 14th to 16th March 2014. The agenda for this Meeting is already at the discussion table and we will deal with questions such as strategy directions, activity planning and budgets, the elections of the Secretary General, the Committee members as well as future meetings and Championships organizing. Annually we have two meetings, one at the spring time and another one during our Championships. This practice gave us good results and we will continue like this. Of course, between Meetings, there’s a lot of internet communication and work. Each spring meeting we are changing the host country. Thus, we are also trying to help different countries.

One of the main fields of our work will be the Youth projects. Lots of young people are going around us up to now, and we are not using them. We will pay special attention to this field in a coming period that we can make educational training camps for youth, each summer, seven days in different countries, with leaders and experts from our developed countries. I will be very committed to this in my work. Another important matter is to continue with our developing activities: seminars, different kinds of sport education, etc. The SEEOA should be a place for debating and proposing ideas as well as common initiatives to promote education, training and employment in the sport. We found this issue is the key for a future good work with the youngsters, to obtain for them a better quality of knowledge. These seminars – that were held the last three years in Montenegro, Cyprus, Bosnia , Moldova, Croatia, Turkey and Serbia – have brought to us some new countries and for some of them this was a new step forward. For this work, we need good sport managers, educated and licensed coaches, and this is something that we need to improve as well.

But for this you need money (!) ...

Z. M. - For most of our Federations, to finance orienteering activities are a real big problem, from different perspectives. Some of them, almost don’t have budget at all (Moldova, Greece, etc.) and to the rest of them, money is not enough, now matter how much it is, even for the strongest nations. But most of them haven't tried to use some other sources to finance activities yet, and here we will try to learn and to give some new experiences to all. The European Union has just opened one more door for us with an Erasmus and a project which, in the next term, will involve a lot of money. And this is only one solution, there are hundreds of different more, and not only by the European Union. Within different ideas, we will develop specially work projects, because now, as a legal institution, we can apply for various kinds of EU projects concerning sport. But not only in sport, but also in health, education and several other youth projects. This should become an important source of additional financing of our sport. With the network that we have at the moment, it’s much easier than if you are going from country to country alone.

In the past, we also had in our region a lot of help from WWOP and Peo Bengtsson, as well as from the Host Ost Legendarna organization, and we still do. They have done a really great job for orienteering development during the very well-known Autumn South East Tours, visiting our countries and helping us. Other good examples are organizations like PWT Italy and PWT Norway, with their activities and concept projects like MOC, MOC Tour, training camps, etc., which also influences and helps a lot the development of orienteering within the Mediterranean region. In the future, we will also try to use other similar initiatives and activities to help developing orienteering: institutional, non-governmental and private, especially in the new and non developed countries. I consider that we all have the same task, sometimes from different perspectives, but I am sure about a same goal: a better position for our sport worldwide.

How do you expect to see the SEEOA in the long term, let’s say within four years?

Z. M. - My primary concern will be to find somebody who will continue my work after that time (laughs). But yes, it is like that, because the next four years will be a hell of a job and a pioneer work in some fields of orienteering for a lot of our countries. Ideas and projects need to become reality, and this means a lot of work, but for all of us. The SEEOA Council members coming from eight countries and I hope that all of them are really ready to contribute and also to engage a wider platform for our work involving some other experience experts from their own countries for a common success. I like to work in a team, and our friendship in this region helps a lot to overcome the difficulties. We are working in a territory where at the moment exists about fifteen orienteering countries, with an orienteering population of more than 10.000 active orienteers from about 425 clubs and with more than 360 competitions. This is not the latest data, but what we have at the moment. So, you can imagine that we are a really strong orienteering population, ready to cooperate and to work hard for a better future of orienteering. And not only in our region.

Now that we are close to turn the page of another year, I ask you to make a wish for 2014.

Z. M. - First of all, I want to thank you, Joaquim, for your tremendous work as an orienteering journalist, not only here at the Portuguese Orienteering Blog, but also in Inside Orienteering and somewhere else. Your contribution, and the contribution of other photographers and journalists who are working voluntarily in our sport, are helping a lot our sport to become really visible. Thank you very much also for the opportunity to explain here, at your blog, what is happening in the South East Europe. I know, friends told me that I am crazy with my orienteering ideas, and I say yes, but lots of them I made come true. So, this keeps me moving on and with you, my friends, even faster. So let’s again do this job together as well! I wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all readers, followed by a lot of orienteering activities worldwide. Cheers!

Joaquim Margarido

[Photo: Delegates to the SEEOA's Congress; courtesy of SEEOA archive]


  1. I would really like to have a better information about this dual system.

    The SEEOC and COMOF are great initiatives but for now from my understanding they don't have any formal status within IOF, Europe working group and they are not part of the rules or part of the IOF event structure. IOF mentioned both initiatives as good examples of cooperation within the Region but going from cooperation to formal representation of the sport in the region may be tricky without formalization of the status within IOF.

    It can be confusing for many stakeholders. Developing unofficial event called "regional championship" where "national teams" compete can be misleading. I agree that these "labels" can help organizers to get better support from local or national government in many countries and that these labels can be more attractive for media and potential sponsors because sponsors would expect participation from whole region. On the other hand I don't see much difference with other summer recreational multiday events which have the same goals; to increase local interest for the sport, get local sponsors and promote the sport. If event is not approved by IOF than event has unofficial status like many others. The most similar example would be Alpe-Adria orienteering Cup. Why SEEOC want to be addressed as "championship event" instead of a Cup?

    I suppose that in the future IOF should approved WRE status only for events without "championships" label. International sport should have a clear event structure so anyone can understand that championship label is an official IOF event.

    COMOF goal is clearer and if IOF is able to promote unofficial Sprint relay WC I don't see any problem to have this event in rules also as unofficial COMOF event. I would understand why not only if this is against the rules of Mediterranean Games association.

    Both initiatives are here to stay (great work) so I think the leaders of SEEOA, COMOF and IOF need to be clearer and present how they see the formal status of the events and organizations in the future.

    Samo K.

  2. Hi Samo,

    for me, everything is clear, no doubts about it. Both sub-regional organisations (SEEOA and COMOF) are independent sport associations working as an non governmental bodies with main issue to develop orienteering sport into their areas. Another one example, with much more longer tradition is cooperation within Nordic countries, This is another one very successful sub-regional cooperation organisation, with their own Nordic Championships. I do not see any troubles with it. Championships is normal title in each sport when you have official events covering some territory. Tittle Cup is more in common use when you have several races and at the end overall winners of the Cup. In Championships you have one race, or maybe before final qualification race and that's it. I don't understand and agreed with you about future WRE events to be just that one without Championship tittles. I do not see any reason for this. IOF regions and regional events are divided now to 6 regions, and SEEOA, COMOF, Nordic organisation have nothing with this. In some regions orienteering sport is very well developed, in some not. Sub-regional groups are one step lower, but very important for better understandings and closer cooperation between neighbouring countries.