Statement Challenging the Claims of World Obstacle and Adventure One (A1 Adventure) on the Future of Adventure Racing

Stephan Muller / 05.01.2022
Racing during Expedition Africa Rodrigues
Racing during Expedition Africa Rodrigues / © Bruce Viaene

Following the statements at the end of December by World Obstacle and Adventure 1 (A1) on their plans for adventure racing, Stephan Muller of Expedition Africa, backed by some other established Race Directors, has issued the following statement.

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As a group of Race Directors, we wish to support and encourage any organizers, or event producers, who wish to put on adventure races. 

We also fully accept that competition can be good for any sport, and for any organization, as it encourages excellence and improvement.

More events are good for the sport, so it is with a heavy heart we make this statement with regards to World Obstacle and Adventure 1 (A1).

Unsubstantiated statements have been made public by these two organizations and we feel they need to be addressed.

As a group of Race Directors, with a record of participating in and organizing Adventure Racing internationally over the last 20 years or more, we are not in agreement with the unilateral announcement on the future plans for adventure racing by these two organizations.

Recent announcements by World Obstacle have mapped out their vision for the future for the sport of Adventure Racing in association with Adventure 1 (A1), an international adventure producer.  (These two organizations have relevant definitions on their websites which have been reproduced at the bottom of this document.)

1.  World Obstacle Representing and Validating the Sport of Adventure Racing

World Obstacle has 95 national federations under their umbrella. Visiting their individual websites, it appears that only 30 of these federations have active operations in Obstacle Course racing (and few of these are recognised by their own national sports authority).None of these federations are active in adventure races. The majority of the rest of the federations’ websites appear to be non-active and to be duplicates of a template website.

Their website: https://www.worldobstacle.org/organisation/ has links to their national federations’ operations.

World Obstacle is self-appointed in the arena of Adventure Racing and have added the sport of Adventure Racing,(as a sub-sport) under their federation without any consultation with the adventure racing community at large.

World Obstacle does not have any mandate from any Adventure Racing organizer or athlete, or any party involved in Adventure Racing, to represent them or validate the sport, other than the recently self-appointed Adventure 1 (A1). Adventure 1 (A1) does not represent the Adventure Racing community or the majority of the Adventure Racing organizers across the world.

The World Obstacle website claims that the A1 Adventure racing series events are being delivered in collaboration with the national federation members of World Obstacle in over 100 countries. Events are chosen based on the quality, history, and reputation of the races. At the current moment A1 is only represented in 3 countries by private companies/ individuals and not in collaboration with the national federations in those countries. 

The Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) granted World Obstacle ‘observer status’ on 6th October 2021. (Which it is claimed is a step towards Olympic recognition.)

On 19th November 2021 insidethegames.biz revealed in an exclusive, that in a letter to the members, the newly elected president confirmed a motion to dissolve the GAISF would be on the agenda at its general assembly in May 2022.

2.  Adventure 1 (A1) Being ‘The Premier International Race Producer’.

A1 is not the premier race organization internationally as claimed on their websites and communications. A1 was started in 2017 and presents 12 events (24 -48 hour) annually in 3 countries (South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia) and has never organized a World Championship or any international event.

The Adventure Racing World Series is the current premier race organization internationally.

The ARWS was started in 2001 and presents 34 events annually in 25 countries and has presented 18 World Championships. ARWS have established a network of 17 Expedition multi-day races in 17 countries.

ARWS has also established regional series with events of 120km to 250km (24 – 48 hours) distances. These regional series consist of the following regions: Europe, Oceania, Africa, South America, and Asia – a total of 26 events in 19 countries.

This regional series are set to grow exponentially in the next few years and will, in future, also include events of 12 hours and 4 hours.

ARWS has had over 1,700 teams from around the world that qualify for a World Ranking.  These rankings have been in place for the last 10 years.

ARWS has established:

  • Internationally accepted rules of competition for all events
  • An internationally accepted Mandatory Equipment List for all events
  • An international referee group that assists all events
  • An internationally accepted World ranking system.

 3.   Adventure Racing and Obstacle Sport Racing Are Similar and Related

The definition of Obstacle Course Races is ‘individual or mass participation events where athletes run and overcome man made obstacles.

There is no navigation – the foundation of adventure racing.

Adventure racing is defined by Wikipedia as “a multidisciplinary team sport involving navigation over an unmarked wilderness course”.

The obstacles are not similar to mountains, rivers etc. as commonly argued by them. Adventure racing is not the “ultimate Obstacle Course Race”.

Adventure racing is adventure racing and has maintained its format since 1989. Adventure racing can “stand” on its own.

Adventure Racing is also quite different in that it has several disciplines of movement (not just running) including cycling and paddling. Mult day races introduces also sleep strategy to these events.

Obstacle Course Racing clearly has truly little in common with adventure racing in this regard. Some could argue that other sports like triathlon or orienteering are more similar than Obstacle Course Racing is.

The World Obstacle website (https://www.worldobstacle.org/sub-sports-adventure-racing/) have updated the History of Adventure section on their website, included are, Muddy Buddy, The Amazing Race TV show, and several other multi-sport events.

What we see here is “blurring” of the definition of adventure racing so it can be included under the same umbrella as any sport that have athletes competing in different disciplines in the same event.

4.  Adventure Racing and Federations

The forming of an international federation for adventure racing has been discussed for many years in AR circles. 12 active national adventure racing federations already exist.

The forming of a federation requires careful consideration, particularly concerning what it means for the freedom that symbolizes Adventure Racing. The federation’s main purpose should be what is the best for the sport, decided by those within the sport.

History in many other sports has shown us the pitfalls of federations, which can restrict freedoms, add annual membership fees,add temporary day license fees, result in individuals attaining too much power and personality clashes,and other non-beneficial conditions of entry. All of this adds to the cost of the entry fee.Funding has to be generated from somewhere to support federations.

Whatever the future is for Adventure racing, whether it is under a federation, under a collaboration of private companies, or a combination of the two, leaders need to be “elected”.

One thing is definite; there need to be leaders who can unite and not divide.  The ideal leader needs to:

  • Provide vision and strategy and to motivate people to see the “big picture”
  • Enhance members' satisfaction and the capacity for production
  • Achieve goals and shape objectives, while in the background maintain the groups’ culture
  • Have the ability to reconcile diverse interests and realize that without the right people in the right positions the organization cannot move forward.

And much more …

Clearly, there needs to a thorough thought process to elect the right person, or group of persons, to steer Adventure Racing.

5. Adventure Racing and The Olympic Games

To see adventure racing at the Olympic Games would surely be a positive prospect for all adventure racers. The forming of an International Adventure Racing Federation to enable this path needs to be supported by credible national federations.

National federations can be created by adventure racers in each country if there is a general consensus for that need.  A minimum of 50 national federations needs to be created that supports the international body.

Only federations that are truly about Adventure racing can decide the future of Adventure racing and its participation in the Olympic games. Questions of format, duration, rules etc., can only be decided by adventure racers not obstacle course racers.

The pathway to the Olympics has many barriers to entry and is not a straightforward process:

In 2004, the International Olympic Committee Executive Council accepted the “Evaluation Criteria for Sports and Disciplines”. The evaluation contains 33 items under eight major headings (history and tradition, universality, popularity of the sport, image-environment, athletes’ health, development of the IF, costs, and general). These criteria are the justifications for placing a sport on the competition program and within the maximum cap placed on events. Simply put, for one sport to be added to the Summer Games now, one must be removed.

Sports now must “add to the quality and popularity of the programme” to be considered for inclusion. Under the evaluation criteria for the popularity of a sport, there are six items of consideration, including best athlete participation, spectator attendance at Olympic Games, spectator attendance at World Championships, media interest at the Olympic Games, written press coverage, and television coverage of the Olympic Games and World Championships.(The Creation and Development of an International Sport Federation: A Case Study of the International Triathlon Union from 1989-2000 by Sean Phelps)

Adventure racing’s strength lies in:

  1. Strong and self-reliant event directors that are able to present well organized and planned events, with the freedom to plan events according to their vision and with variation depending on the location, culture, and climate.
  2. Athletes and teams that have the freedom to attend the events of their choice without being forced to adhere to specific conditions stipulated by an organization.

As Race Directors (and competitors), we feel it is important to add a balanced perspective on many of the statements being presented by World Obstacle and A1 Adventure.

We feel that they do not represent the sport as a whole and would encourage participants and international bodies to challenge the authority they suggest they have and to apply critical thinking on all information out there.

Finally, we wish to re-iterate – more events are a good thing, and we encourage any event organizer who wishes to stand on the start line of their own Adventure Race.

This document was compiled and supported by:

Stephan Muller – Expedition Africa

James Thurlow – Itera Expedition Race

Paul McGreal - Itera Expedition Race

Igor Dorotic – Adventure Race Croatia

Nancy Bahuaud – Raid in France

Pascal Bahuaud – Raid in France

Chris Dixon – Wild & Co - ARWS Oceania Regional director

Mark Richardson – Gold Rush Adventure Races

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World Obstacle is a member based, not for profit organization. Members are composed of National Member Federations administering Obstacle Sports and their related Disciplines and Events. Each National Federation (NF) belongs to one of the four Continental ConfederationsObstacle Sports Federation AfricaObstacle Sports Federation Asia Pacific (including Oceania), Pan American Obstacle Sports Federation, and the European Obstacle Sports Federation.

Adventure 1 (A1) is an adventure race producer that supports and promotes local, national, and international athletes, events, and race directors.

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