HILLEROD, DENMARK — The European Mountain Bike Orienteering Championships (EC MTBO or EOC) — A Regional Championship Event — are set to have the world’s best MTBO athletes face off in Hillerød, Denmark this week. Elite MTBO racers from 23 nations, including two (2) world-class athletes from Australia, Anthony Darr and Alex Randall, will participate in events from June 23-27, 2009.

However, There is one interesting side note to this years competition that bears mentioning. According to the EOC Competition Rules, only current EOC Competitors whom represent full or associate member Federations of the IOF, and belong to a country defined by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as belonging to the European continent, are eligible for European titles, medals or diplomas during the EC MTBO (and Junior EC MTBO) championships (Section 6. Participation – Rule 6.5 and Section 25. Prizes – Rule 25.5).

This would mean, as of February 2009, that only MTBO athletes from the countries of Austria, Belgium, Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Greece, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Republic Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and Ukraine, can be eligible for the championship status awarded to winners of each EOC competition.

This rule is all fine and good until you take a quick look at the starting list of countries. A quick glance at the 23 countries participating in this year’s EOC will let you find that the only country that sent athletes to this competition NOT on the IOFs or IOCs “approved country list”, is Australia. This means that after traveling over 9,900 miles (15,900 km) for the opportunity to participate in one of the few major championship events in the entirety of Mountain Bike Orienteering, Australian MTBO athletes Anthony Darr and Alex Randall will not be allowed to earn any titles, medals, or diplomas, no matter how well they perform at this year’s championships.

Now this certainly is what we in the armature sports industry might call a “bad rule” since it only seems to discriminate against one (1) country in the competition (for now). But it leaves me pondering something that maybe someone out there in the orienteering world can explain to me. Now, I just might be a “naive” American, or maybe my American-style public education forgot to teach me the the finer details of world geography. But looking at the IOFs and IOCs list of countries belonging to a the “European continent” I find myself puzzled to see “Israel” and “Russia” on the list.

First off let me clear that I have nothing against Israel or Russia. Granted the part of Russia that extends from Eastern Europe to the Ural Mountains is technically considered to be part of the European continent; and I don’t see any Middle-Eastern MTBO Federations popping up anytime soon to invite Israel to a regional event. I also grant you the possibility that, being as MTB Orienteering tends to be dominated by Europeans countries at the moment, and that the IOF “is” headquartered in Finland, I understand how they might go about adding “border countries” to their list as an act of good faith. But, even with all that considered, when could anyone in their right mind consider Israel and Russia “European” enough for the sake of a European Championship?

Please! If Russia and Israel can be considered “European” enough to be considered for the same titles and medals as Denmark, then so should Australia!

Unfortunately, this years competition will not feature any MTBO athletes from the United States — again. No fault of the IOF or any Europeans, just a lack of organization on our part. No worries — we’ll get their soon enough. But in knowing what I know about how both Americans and Australians like to “get into people’s faces” I would be certain that the Orienteering Federation of Australia would gladly join the United States Orienteering Federation (co-authored by MTBO America, of course) in knocking a few head together before some common sense emerged that would allow us “former European” colonies-turned-independent-democracies to have same rights to EOC title as any other European competitor — especially if Israel and Russia do. I would even argue that the United States of America and Australia are a even more European (especially as of late) then some “European” counties are!!

Ultimately, I would like to see Alex Randall CRUSH the EOC competition and hopefully embarrass the IOF when they cannot bestow the title of EOC champion on him! I would also like to see the Russians (if only for the sake of argument) crush this competition as well. It’s too bad that Israel does not have a team competing in this year’s event, because I would be wishing the same success for them as I do the Russians. Ironically, Russia actually does have a good chance at stealing this championship away from Northern Europe this time, especially considering that their impressive array of athletes almost rivals to home team of Denmark.

The Europeans will be hard pressed to keep their titles on athletes from countries “actually” in Europe this year. As for me, I cannot wait to see Alex Randall take the podium!