Damir Gobec is, surely, one of the most committed persons with Orienteering worldwide. His work at the helm of the World Trail Orienteering Championships WTOC 2015, in Croatia, remains a benchmark in terms of the highest standards of technical and logistical requirements. Already in February, this year, he was at the epicenter of another great event, this time in Egypt. The Portuguese Orienteering Blog is proud to have him on its tribune, recalling intense moments and talking passionately about the future of our sport.
Time goes by quickly and the WTOC 2015, which saw you as Event Director, in our minds, seems to have been so recently. What memories do you keep from those days in Zagreb and Karlovac?
Damir Gobec (D. G.) - WTOC 2015 is something that I’ll never forget. It was a life experience from which I learned a lot about myself, my friends, politics, marketing, transport, catering and a lot of other things, not necessarily related to sport. I also learned how we (WTOC team) work under pressure. We learned that it’s impossible to predict everything that can happen in a big organization like that. Many of us spent a few years working on this project and it still remains quite alive in our hearts. One of the big things (except for the technical part of Event) we did was a huge picture gallery with few thousands of photos and I often go there, remembering some particular moments. It's interesting, the way you see the whole organization afterwards and you’re able to enjoy every moment of it, saying that this is something we are proud of and we did it right. Even the well-known "mud day", from this perspective, looks like a special moment which made our work even more interesting and challenging.
I remember a lot of nice little moments behind the scenes, which kept us going from day to day and night to night. The whole organization team is still full of memories which will probably never fade away and we will talk about them for many years to come. I think that most of the competitors don’t even think about the amount of work which has been done. For example, we spent more than 30 days just preparing paths for the first PreO day and then we had a "millennium rain" which ruined all that work. You cannot predict something like this.
Looking back on it with almost two years of distance, how do you assess the event in a global way and how satisfied are you with the final result?
D. G. - I think the whole team can be proud of the work which has been done. We know that we made a good job, the best possible at that time, as we had to have on our minds that we stepped in much later than other countries which were organizing WTOC. We learned our weak points and we know that some things could be done better. We are also extremely proud of our report which came out more like a book or Guideline for future organizers and I hope that it helps future organizers to learn even more from our experiences and mistakes (http://www.vihor.hr/assets/iof_report_part_one.pdf).
In my opinion future organizers should make the effort to be better than WTOC 2015, so we can all enjoy good events and we should look forward to the Championships which make you proud to be part of it. We should treat our Championships with honour because, if we don’t do it, nobody else will. Something below the standards which were set would not be good. We have to show the World that we are part of sport community with developed competitions. WTOC must be our show room.
How was the break or resting period after the event? Did you think about giving up Orienteering?
D. G. - I can’t say that I had a proper rest, as we continued our work in orienteering. We are still working a lot with kids within the club, we are working on new maps, new events. World Orienteering Day is also one of the projects we accepted and we are developing it in Zagreb.
Forgetting about orienteering was something that was done in some days after WTOC, as you can feel really tired after spending few years preparing something really intense and, as Ivana and I were together in that work, it is normal that we had tough times when we also had to deal with our ordinary and professional obligations, not connected with orienteering. Our escape was spending two weeks cruising around the Greek islands and spending some time in Turkey on the coast, far away from everybody and then we restarted all over again, thinking about new projects.
One of the projects you took up this year was the Supervision of the Egypt International Orienteering Championships and the organization of a TrailO stage as part of the event. Would you like to tell me about your experience in Sharm El Sheikh?
D. G. - The supervision of Egyptian International Orienteering Championships was more like organizing the event. First, I was just supposed to help out with the project, but, finally, seven of my club members, from OC "Vihor", ended up contributing to a big, successful orienteering event. We spent ten days in Egypt and made a three-day TrailO seminar for all interested competitors, one PreO competition and three Foot-O competitions (one WRE Event) and we also spent a lot of time adjusting the maps for FootO and specially for PreO.
Sharm El Sheikh turned out to be a big crossroad for Egyptian orienteering and, especially, for the TrailO team. Working in different environments and with people of different cultures is always challenging and we learned how time can be completely irrelevant. We found out that the Egyptian TrailO team can be very good. They are strong-willed, have some basic map reading experience and now they have some knowledge. After gaining some international experience, I believe they will be competitive even on international level. You know that Croatia came out of nowhere at WTOC in Czech Republic and there we picked up our first IOF medal so I hope that this Croatian-Egyptian work will give us some new very good results.
What does it mean to talk about Orienteering in Egypt?
D. G. - Orienteering in Egypt is taking big steps. Maybe even, steps that are too big, as they cannot follow the needs of organizing International Events and they want to make big events every year. At this moment, Egyptian orienteering is developing within universities, Military and foreign schools. There are lots of people keen on developing orienteering, but they don’t have experience and knowledge on how to do that, and nobody from the Federation can also help them as they are all new to our sport. The only solution is to get help from more developed countries. Tamer Mehana, President of the Egyptian Orienteering Federation, is trying his best and we can see progress and we can see that Egypt is already an orienteering country with national teams and International events but still lacking knowledge and experience.
IOF support, implementation and development of Orienteering in new countries should be better and more efficient . IOF should not focus just on World Championships and "big countries" which are taking medals on those events. There would be no World Championships if "smaller nations" didn't participate in such events and if they didn't get support to develop. Of course money is always a big issue and sending one or more instructors from IOF to the developing countries, with paid flights and everything, could be a good solution to it. Developing countries need everything, from basic equipment to well educated people. Sending some old orienteering flags, compasses, old organizing equipment, etc. would help out a lot.
What other projects do you have to deal with this year and in the upcoming ones?
D. G. - This year we already did one big project which was challenging, as it was in another Continent. At the moment we (I’m always saying “we”, as my wife Ivana is also working on all of these projects and, of course, without the support of club members most of those projects wouldn’t succeed) are preparing several Foot orienteering and PreO events. The main focus at the end of the month will be on our orienteering school, which we do annually and where we try to get as many people as we can to our sport.
Afterwards we will have WOD in few school locations in Zagreb. Last year we did it in three locations with over 600 participants and this year we hope to add a few more. Of course, in the meantime, we will participate on many orienteering competitions. During summer we hope to be able to send a small team to Lithuania, to help the WTOC organizing team. Developing our sport in the region is also one of the things which are on our list of priorities, so my work in the South East European Association is part of that. This year, the SEEOC and the South East European Masters Championships will be held in Montenegro and I hope that it also is a major success for their federation and for the development of orienteering within their country.
Working as an associate lecturer at the University of Kinesiology in Zagreb, where I have the chance to teach orienteering to future PE teachers, is also one of the important steps towards better understanding orienteering and involvement with orienteering within school curriculum in Croatia.
Have you already started working with the Portuguese Orienteering Federation on the WTOC 2019' Supervision?
D. G. - Just a few days ago, I had a first contact with organizers of WTOC 2019. There were some issues with venues and dates and they are still working on it, but I hope this will be settled very soon, so we can start working properly. Two years and few months until the Event seems like a lot of time to prepare the WTOC but it is actually a very short time and we can say that we are a little behind schedule. I hope the first visit of SEA will be soon and we will then approve all the proposed terrains and accommodation facilities, so we can publish Bulletin 1 two years before the event and just before WTOC 2017.
The next visit, the Assistant Event Adviser (hopefully Ivana) will join me and we will check all the courses and maps and this should be exactly one year before the Event. So, in 2018, the organizers should be done with most of the technical stuff. Some final technical adjustments, additional advertising, promotion of Event and all other issues will be taken care of in the last year of preparations. I know how much help my team had from our Advisers Vibeke Vogelius and Lauri Kontkanen so I hope I can be useful to the organizing team, even on the days when we will push them to work better, harder, more accurately, more precisely and more in advance.
How do you assess the TrailO in Croatia currently?
D. G. - Unfortunately, TrailO in Croatia didn’t develop much after WTOC 2015 as I hoped for. The Croatian team is still very competitive and good but we are missing a major step towards the development of this discipline within the clubs. In my opinion there are too many discussions about how to participate in ETOC, WTOC or some major Event, rather than how to develop the sport and how to attract more people and foot orienteers to try this discipline. Only a few are willing to spend some extra time teaching others or organizing training and events in the country. We are still the only club working hard to get more people to try our sport and specially to TrailO. It’s somehow easier for others to sit in the car and to go to the Event which is organized by somebody else in the country nearby.
Would you like to add something else?
D. G. - Orienteering is a great sport and we all are like one big family. Wherever you go, if you find a local orienteering club, you’ll get a warm welcome and the help you need. This is really great. Most of those people are local enthusiasts which are spending most of their free time setting courses, putting controls in the forest, printing, drawing maps, giving lectures and doing a lot of different things for orienteering and for others.
In my opinion, we are still missing support to all those people within the local community and within national Federations and worldwide. If just every national elite runner after his carreer gives back some small part of the experience and knowledge he gained on the work of those enthusiasts, we would all have more help and energy to move on developing our sport.