Sunday, November 29, 2015

Inside Orienteering 03/2015: Behind the Scenes - Jorn Sundby

The Norwegian Jorn Sundby is IOF WOC SEA which means event advising at World Orienteering Championships with TV-development as one key part.

Tell us about your work as IOF WOC SEA?

– The mission is to secure the quality of WOC-events. I have a SEA-assistant for all WOCs, and we also have at least one national controller in our team. In addition, we have different experts within the IOF we can involve in technical details if necessary. The SEA is the main link between the IOF and organizer. One main task is of course to make sure that the IOF rules are strictly followed. Some IOF-rules are different from national rules. We have to approve the solutions chosen by the organizers in all areas, making sure that they not only follow the rules, but also have the quality that we want for our main event. Fairness is the most important guideline in judging all aspects of a WOC. Our aim is to be a support and a help for the organizers (not only a controller). Most WOC organizers do this once in their life time, while the SEA-team have a lot of experience from
many WOCs. In many cases we know what works and what doesn’t work.

Describe your work?

– I started working for IOF ahead of the 2015-season, replacing Bjorn Persson. I had some previous SEA-experience as Bjorn´s assistant at WOC 2014. Right now I have the responsibility of the WOC’s from 2016–2018. Normally we visit the host city once or twice each year in the three years prior to the WOC. Every visit is normally three to four days. Beside the visits we stay in close contact with the organizer through E-mail. For WOC 2016 it is a bit different, both me as the SEA and Unni Strand Karlsen as the assistant SEA lives quite close to the area, so we are visiting more frequently. We might just go for an evening meeting or a day in the forest.

We spend a lot of time on the different things that are different at WOC compared to a “normal” event. This is often where the organizer needs support and advice. Very few have experience with television, with the infrastructure needed, demands for IT, and so on. The demands of an international event, language, fairness for all countries is also new to many. Still, in the end, most time is used on maps and courses. There are many events at a WOC, and we want the best possible quality for the athletes.

What do you like with this job?

– Meeting organizers from different countries and finding good solutions together as a team is very rewarding. There are so many people who spend so many hours for our sport, making these events happen. They all have this desire to make their event as good as absolutely possible, and this is fantastic to see. Especially I enjoy the early part of the event planning, when the main concepts are made. To find an arena and a terrain that can have world class courses, and at the same time give us a great presentation on TV and for spectators. I enjoy the challenge of trying to improve the standard of our events every year to the benefit of all our stakeholders.

The biggest challenge?

– The biggest challenge is to find the concepts that can fulfill all the intentions of a WOC. We need to have world class maps and courses at the same time as we need world class TV-production and presentation. This is often a challenge to combine, many of the best terrains are often in remote areas with struggling mobile connection no internet or infrastructure. The athletes will be happy there, but TV Broadcast and presentation will suffer. They need more infrastructure to be able to do their job. Many arenas that have the necessary infrastructure for the forest event don’t have the best terrain nearby, leading to compromises that in the end neither athletes or TV are happy with. So it is absolutely crucial that we search for the area where we both have access to world class terrain, but also have the infrastructure needed for spectators and media/television.

In such a big organization as a WOC there are many different people with many different opinions. This is often refreshing as it brings different ideas to the table. But sometimes it can be very difficult when decisions need to be made and it is impossible to keep everybody happy. This is a big challenge, most organizers are volunteers and if they are not happy with the decisions they may choose to do other things than organize a WOC… So it is important to have a good and clean communication with all the key people in the organization.

The sprint events are also a big challenge. Held in an urban area, it is very difficult to secure everything with so many people living and moving in the competition area. You always seem to get some unpleasant surprises.

The financial part of the event is also very challenging for most organizers, and it is sometimes necessary to choose second best or third best option because of financial issues.

Give us an example of an incident to avoid.

– The most important is of course to avoid incidents that makes the competition unfair or even cancelled. The most important is to think about possible scenarios and have back-up plans ready. So we spend a lot of time discussing potential problems. What if the area loses power? What if a bus breaks down on the way to the start? What if the competition maps get lost on the way to the start? And so on. The WOC 2015 organizers were great at making such plans. When a bus had problems on the way to the long distance start, they had already thought about this and could make fast decisions on what to do.

How do we prevent incidents as the punching system fail in the World Cup?

– By having done proper testing in advance with the same people, in the same conditions. It is very important that the organizers have test events where they test their systems (and people) in the same roles and with the same goal as in WOC. When people have to do something for the first time at WOC it increases the risk of error. People should have done their task so many times already in tests that they feel safe and know what to do during WOC. Many people were concerned about using punch-free system in WOC 2015 after the failure in June, but the organizer had done a really professional job testing many times and it worked well at WOC.

Who are you?

– I have a mixed background in orienteering. I competed myself at JWOC and Euromeeting for Norway, but I had to give up the national team early due to an injury. I worked as the coach of the Norwegian junior team for four years, and I was one of the assistant coaches of the senior team for four years, helping the athletes with the technical preparations (maps, courses and trainings) for WOC being my main task. So I know a lot about how the coaches think, and how the teams prepare. Beside coaching I have been working in media for the last 25 years. In orienteering I have been an announcer for many World Cup events and also WOC. In television I have been a commentator for the last 15 years, doing winter sports, football, handball, and also some orienteering. I have also been involved in productions from events.

For three years I worked full time for the Norwegian Orienteering Federation as their event manager, this included responsibilities in connection with WOC 2010. I have also been a course setter for many big events, including many Norwegian championships and also World Cup. I am a part time map maker, having maps made for Norwegian championships and for local events. So I have a very mixed background that hopefully can help the understanding of all aspects of a WOC, and to find the best possible solutions.

Can you compare the big orienteering events with other sports event?

– Our sport is very demanding to organize. So many details are important for a successful event, and this makes orienteering one of the more challenging sports to organize. What makes it even more challenging is that we don’t have a fixed arena, we pretty much have to build everything from scratch every time. There are also big costs involved, especially for mapping and TV-production. It is easier (and much cheaper) to put up a couple of cameras at a beach volley or tennis arena than putting several kilometers of heavy cables out in tough forest. One advantage is that our maps can be reused for years after our events, for everyone from elite to youngsters.

Orienteering organizers are generally good in the technical matters of the competition, but many other sports are much more professional in their work with presentation, TV, sponsors and partners. In this area we need to improve.

How can we develop big events in the future?

– I believe that we are moving towards a more professional handling of our main events. This means that some tasks will be done by specialists, who will do the same job every year. This is already the case with areas like TV-production and mapping, but also some other areas, like IT/time-keeping should have a professional team who secure high quality every time. I think this will benefit everyone, especially the organizers, as they can spend more energy on the tasks that they have experience and feel comfortable with, and they can sleep better, knowing that some of their critical tasks are taken care of.

From 2019 the new system with split sprint and forest WOC will start, and it will be very interesting to follow this development. There are some challenges with it, but it also gives us possibilities that we didn’t have before. New countries, new areas can be used, and with fewer events during the week it should be easier to improve the quality of the events held. I am hoping that we can improve the financial side of organizing a WOC, that would make WOC much more attractive and means that we can choose from more and better concepts.

The TV-productions are moving in the right direction now, with more and more countries buying the rights for WOC. Hopefully, within five-six years, we no longer lose money on our TV Broadcasts.

I also hope that the level of the athletes continues to improve, hopefully we will have many countries fighting for medals also in the coming years. I want us to give them some WOC events that gives them positive memories for life, and as long as I have this job I will do everything I can to make that happen!

Photo: Erik Borg

[See the original article at Published with permission from the International Orienteering Federation]

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