The President of the International Orienteering Federation, Mr. Brian Porteous, is fond of saying that Orienteering is the best kept secret in the sporting world. This is also true in South Africa. It is time to let the secret out.
Smalls sports like Orienteering face many challenges, not only in South Africa, but the world over. In today’s busy world, people are faced with a barrage of options to soak up their free time. Even if we ignore the increasingly sedentary populace and focus on those who are physically active, the battle for people’s time is intense. With the rising popularity of trail running, obstacle course races and the like, it is clear that there is a substantial community out there that Orienteering is not reaching.
It is worth contemplating what these activities and events are getting right. We can learn from them and emulate their successes. We can protest that the technical nature of Orienteering, which makes it difficult for newcomers to have a positive first experience. However, there are solutions. Take AR club’s Summer Series format from early in 2014. Other such innovative formats are adopted by Orienteering clubs the world over. They might not be ‘hard-core’ Orienteering, but they are forms of the sport that are easy to host, fun for experienced orienteers and more easily accessible to newcomers. We can marvel at the publicity that these other sports manage to generate. That too can be emulated. Take the success of the GOC clubs’ Urban Series, which resulted in a 25% increase in participation.
Whilst there is much we can learn and improve upon, we must also remember our strengths. First and foremost is that we are all members of clubs. As such we are a community of volunteers who give of our time and passion for the sport that we love. Second, we are an official sport, recognised and supported by the Department of Sport and Recreation. This comes with funding, which means that we can strive to make our sport accessible and affordable.
Our community has experienced a number of losses this year, and I want to highlight Ruedi Siegenthaler, in particular. He was a great example of what it means to be part of a community such as ours. He always had time to listen to others and to lend a helping hand. He always had time to guide and encourage. A community founded on passion and these principles is sure to be strong and resilient.
There are always challenges that will face us. But there are reasons to be optimistic. Let us build our community, work together and embrace the challenges that await us. With this common cause I am confident that Orienteering in South Africa will successfully navigate to a brighter future.
Follow this link to read the SAOF’s 2013/14 Annual Report.