British Orienteering is taking some stick at the moment for its centralising tendencies. Depends on your point of view. Has BOF got nothing to do with local clubs? Or might one say that if local clubs didn’t exist, BOF wouldn’t exist? Whatever your feelings, it’s clear that BOF is asserting itself and wants to use its money** without giving local clubs and regional associations too much say in the matter.

Is this a big deal? The people at BOF are nearly all orienteers, and the board is democratically elected by the membership, but there is certainly resistance to the idea that regional representatives shouldn’t automatically have a seat on the various boards, groups and committees.

At the latest West Midlands committee meeting two BOF staff members were present and fielded questions that they couldn’t answer on these issues. Significantly, they were sitting there with a draft document in front of them about the future of orienteering in our region. They didn’t show it to us and we weren’t allowed to read it. They did allude to certain things that were in it, but suggested that they really shouldn’t have told us anything (yet).

One of the most contentious aspects of the regional plans is “Community O”. This initiative has a short but interesting history. Ironically, Harlequins was one of the first exponents of this kind of thing*, the Hartmanns having started the Malvern project (MADO) six or seven years ago. Other clubs have started similar projects* and  BOF started funding them. Some clubs have been particualrly willing and able to start satellite clubs, a famous example being DVO with its satellites in Buxton, Chesterfield, Matlock and Derby.

*Edit: MADO was and is actually a different fish from most of the other clubs’ initiatives, since it’s always been based on monthly events rather than on monthly training sessions.

At some point (I missed the exact day) satellite clubs morphed into community O, and this was more significant than I realised. The change of name portended a change in methodology. In future, BOF won’t hang around and wait for clubs to start satellites, it’s just going to say where they’re going to be, funding them centrally with or without local-club support.

In some ways this makes sense. It’s their money**, they have to increase participation in the sport, and this seems to have a proven track record as a way to do it. And in theory, if they can find coaches to run the sessions (and that could be a big if) it doesn’t matter if the local club doesn’t have the time, peoplepower or willingness to get involved.

In practice it’s all a bit naive. Take Walsall for example, which by some process known only to a few illuminati has been selected as a target.* BOF will pump (at a guess) £4000 a year into Walsall to pay for a venue and a coach for weekly O training/coaching. (I hope they ask me to do some of the coaching since (a) I’ve hardly ever been asked to do any in the two years since I qualified, (b) I need the money and (c) I want there to be more and better orienteers.) But surely there will have to be some, er, orienteering as well, to go with the club nights? BOF is, in effect, asking HOC and WCH to divert some of its activities into the Walsall area. Diverting activities is not a no-cost exercise.

*Edit: At least that’s what I thought! But it still serves as a generic example.

(**if you don’t agree that they wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for local clubs)