Taking events to the people

On World Orienteering Day 2017, Australia was pleased that its

national capital Canberra managed to reach the top ten world cities, with 16 events.  They were beaten only by four Turkish cities and Belgrade (28) and Oslo (19). Canberra also produced one of the “densest” concentration of events anywhere in the world with 15 events taking place within a ten-kilometre radius (see map).


The secret for Canberra was to encourage and support local members to stage small, simple local events. In four public schools, we inspired teachers to hold PE classes. At one after-school care centre we encouraged a simple activity.  We persuaded two private schools to switch their weekly orienteering training session from a Tuesday to the Wednesday for that week. One medical centre was co-opted to provide a five minute fitness function for the accounting firm upstairs and a Salvation Army rehabilitation centre held a fun “treasure hunt” for its residents.


As the date grew closer individuals put their hand up, with one worker putting on a mini event for her eleven workmates in a nearby park. We even had one member, inspired by the midnight event, return with a few friends the next afternoon for an impromptu second go in the daylight – that event was added to the total on the day.


In addition we had four low key official events – their locations and times varied to provide for as wide an audience as possible – with events at 7am before work in the Parliamentary Triangle, at 11 am at a  university, at 12 midday for classic bush lovers and a 6 pm head-torch  event for rogainers and hard-core enthusiasts. The “First–in-The–World” Haig Park event at 12.01 am also gained valuable media coverage with one radio, two newspaper and one TV mention.


In addition, we experimented with assisting at remote events. We believed we could use World Orienteering Day to stimulate orienteering in areas where it has never been done before. To test this theory we contacted a friend of a friend of a friend who is working in Antarctica. Importantly, he had never done orienteering before and knew nothing about it. We successfully managed to exchange email addresses and within a few days he had supplied a basic fire safety map of a building and we were able to draw him up a simple indoor course using purple pen. Within days, eleven people who had never been orienteering in their lives before were experiencing the excitement and dizziness of racing up and down stairs thousands of kilometres away. It now only takes imagination to spread orienteering throughout the world.


Our goal was not quality events. None of them had SI-units or E-cards for example. Many had simple ribbons or laminated paper squares rather than control flags. Mostly no score was kept or result published. The unashamed purpose was simple publicity. Whilst total numbers were considerably down on last year the number of events was up and, we think, the reach was actually greater.


The goal was not to have huge numbers entering but rather to make as many people as possible know what orienteering is and to talk about it with their friends.  That way orienteering – the sport that we love – will flourish here in Canberra and the world.     


Written by David Poland