Egadz! – I’ve become a sports administrator

This article is taken from Newsletter 34, July 1992, written by Warwick Marsden

Ian McKenzie’s two articles in our March newsletter (on selection of teams for the World Champs and whether there should be a change to the convention whereby only the 24 hour event is given championship status) and Michael Burton’s follow up in the last issue (on the selection criteria) have certainly stirred the possum. A number of rogainers have expressed support for the issues raised while others have been dismissive. What I’d like to do is to stimulate the debate further because I feel that rogaining, as we do it in NSW, will be the better for it.

Central to the debate is the way that rogaining has evolved both in Australia and NSW. Those who’ve heard it all before are free to go to the next paragraph. The sport’s roots go back to 1947 when the Melbourne University Mountaineering Club initiated 24 hour walks. An Intervarsity Competition followed in the sixties with a format similar to the rogaines we know today. The VRA was formed in 1976 and WARA several years later. Both States have much larger associations than NSW whose association, the NSWRA was formed in 1983. While there has been a lot of informal contact between the associations, mainly at the annual Australian Championships and orienteering events, there is little in the way of regular contact and exchange of ideas. An Australian Rogaining Association (ARA) exists, as does an IRF (International Rogaining Federation -the Canadians couldn’t handle it being called the IRA!), but to date has done little to develop a national identity for rogaining. And so in NSW we have developed our own identity to a large extent. So much for the history lesson …

The main people responsible for starting the NSWRA in 1983 were Bert and Dianne Van Netten, Ian Dempsey (see the entry form for Bert and Ian’s latest challenge in September!) and Peter and Robyn Tuft (Robyn showed at the recent Paddy Pallin that she’s still as good a rogainer as ever by taking out the Women’s category). For the following few years one or two rogaines were held each year. About this time Trevor Gollan, Peter Wherry, John Keats, myself and a few others became more involved and from 1988, when we took over running the Paddy Pallin, we decided to run four rogaines a year – one 24 hour, two 12 hours and the 6 hour Paddy Pallin with the ACTRA running another two or three – until the NSWRA had grown sufficiently to be able to run more. We felt it was better to run a few events well than to spread our resources too thinly; I think that the success of NSWRA events shows that we made the right decision.

But with the NSWRA turning ten next year perhaps it’s time to not only reassess the number of events but also their nature. (To this end the NSWRA will be holding a ‘think-tank’ later in the year.) In this context I’ll now address the issues raised by Ian and Mike.

World Championships

The issue of the number of entrants at an event is a difficult one and one which we’ve only recently had to address although the VRA and WARA regularly tum people away (the quota is 400). The two main reasons are impact on the environment (and being able to enjoy an event without feeling that you’re never alone – as a team) and catering. The first is very dependent on the area, with many areas being conducive to larger numbers while others may only be suitable for a hundred or so. Catering requires helpers and considerable logistics, both of which are directly proportional to the number of people entered. I see this as the major limitation to increased numbers. We could offer less in the way of catering but I’d be reluctant to promote such a move as it’s the catering which provides the basis for that wonderful ambiance which is so much a part of rogaining.

As for the selection criteria, as the proposer of the original scheme (three 24 hour rogaines and two years membership), I have to admit to making a mistake. A selection criteria should be based on performance! As it’s turned out, NSW won’t fill its quota. This is due to the fact that our quota (which is pro rated according to state membership) is much higher than originally envisaged because of the rapid growth in our numbers over the past couple of years. While some of this increase in membership could be termed ‘highly competitive’ or ‘elite’, the majority would be more accurately termed ‘socially competitive’ or ‘participatory’. I’ll come back to this point, which was the main issue raised by Mike, shortly.

8 Hour Championships?

The 24 hour ‘Championship’ event is one of the aspects of rogaining which we have in common with other states. I believe that there may be a good case for an ‘8 hour Championship’ in the future; some would even say that the 6 hour Paddy Pallin is in effect a short format championship.
This aside, I would like to make several points in answer to Ian. First, the Championship status of the 24 hour event: rogaining is a ‘complex’ tactical sport, far more so than the sports with which Ian drew comparison (running, swimming, cycling), and even it’s close relative, orienteering. An event begins in earnest when the maps are handed out, with the eventual winners of many rogaines being decided in the hours before the start. Out on the course the competition has a number of phases, not the least of which is how to cope with the changes in light and energy levels which come with the night; the greatest challenge often coming after midnight. These elements, which many see as the essence of rogaining, are the reasons for the 24 hour championship status. A shorter championship event would lack some of these elements. I’ll resist drawing an analogy between test match and one day cricket but you’re welcome to!

Second, I would challenge Ian’s premise that there are ‘clearly many rogainers who prefer shorter formals’. The majority of people participating in these events are often not in the ‘highly competitive’ or ‘Championship’ category. Ian is a clear exception. To give short format events which are run in conjunction with longer events championship status would diminish the status of the shorter championship as the majority of the competitive teams would probably be competing in the longer championship. (It’s worth noting that the NSWRA acknowledges that more points may be gained by teams in the shorter event and at this year’s NSW championship the womens class was won by Debbie Cox and Judy Micklewright who were only entered in the 16 hour event.)

Ian wrote his article before competing in longer events en route to the World Championships. I would be pleased to hear whether his views have changed. Also as lan, along with ACT’s Blair Trewin, will probably be NSW’s most competitive team in -the World Championships I’d like to take this opportunity to wish him every success.

Whither rogaining?

Michael Burton sees the forthcoming Rogaining World Championship as heralding a significant change to rogaining in NSW. Having lived with and been part of the changes in rogaining in NSW over the past six years I disagree. The numbers of people attending rogaines in NSW has increased considerably over the past few years and the majority of this increase has been made up by less competitive rogainers. The Paddy Pallin gives a clear indication of this. In 1987 the event drew some 60 participants most of whom were serious orienteers; in 1991 and 1992, when the numbers reached 400, there was still a very strong core of orienteers but their ratio to those who have discovered rogaining as an enjoyable ‘recreational activity, albeit an arduous and adventurous one’ has fallen considerably over the years. This same trend is reflected in other rogaines.

I am not opposed to catering for the ‘new breed’ of rogainer who sees the sport as seriously competitive. My point is that it is important to maintain a balance and not fall into the trap of catering for an unrepresentative minority. In spite of our mistake with the selection criteria NSW appears unlikely to fill its quota for the World Champs – less than 25 (and several of those aren’t members) out of a total membership of about 300.

In the NSW context, I see the offer of prize money at the Lake Macquarie rogaine as having more immediate consequences. If rogaining is to cater for a more competitive breed then there are a number of technical changes which will need to be made. Here are three examples:

  1. Rogaining uses off-the-shelf maps with minimal corrections; will these be acceptable to the serious competitor? To upgrade them to a higher standard would require considerable time and effort and would bring rogaining much closer to orienteering; bushwalkers would see this as a retrograde move.
  2. Policing the rule which requires that teams don’t split up for competitive advantage has been shown to be very difficult. To ensure fair competition under more competitive conditions would be even harder.
  3. At present there’s an acceptance that if a checkpoint is poorly located that it’s unfortunate (hopefully such occurrences are becoming rarer). The nature of the sport is such that these checkpoints are more a talking point than something for which the course setter should be taken to task. To set and vet a course to a higher standard would require even more than the several hundred person hours which are taken at present to set a course.

Yes, these changes can all be made but they will require resources well beyond those presently available in NSW. Personally I believe that our limited resources should be used, in the short term at least, to cater for the majority of rogainers and in recognition that growth in our wonderful sport is coming from a less
competitive new breed. But let’s keep talking about it.

Warwick Marsden, from Newsletter 34 – July 1992