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Attackpoint - performance and training tools for orienteering athletes

Discussion: Cheating in orienteering by technical means?

in: Orienteering; General

Feb 23, 2021 6:02 PM # 
Greetings from scandinavia. I'm attempting to write an article about taking advantage of modern watches, cellphones and whatever means there exists to gain advantage in orienteering competitions.

I have not personally met with such cases, as the general level of honesty amongst orienteerers appears to be high. Which is why I'm asking for help.

It's 2021. We can load race maps to our digital watches and use GPS in many ways, if we gain access to some. We can have someone following our position on the map in another state and talk to our ear. I guess.

Watches, cellphones, handheld GPS -devices. What have I not thought about? Know any cases, regional, worldwide?
Feb 24, 2021 10:58 PM # 
Depending which way you want to discuss... a couple of points i can think of

Although not currently considered cheating, I think an interesting edgecase topic on this is that although embargos can be set for major competitions, people can use LIDAR (for forest) or streetview (for urban) to effectively see the map and train more effectively than others before the race.

There's also obviously this recent example you could discuss

At lower level competitions (my level), simply using a gps watch or footpod could easily be used to help with pacing/distance, or checking the bearing you've just run.
Feb 26, 2021 3:10 AM # 
Your question of using whatever technology "means there exists to gain advantage in orienteering competitions" is rightfully an open-ended question.

I would have thought that a few others would have already responded.

Thinking globally, what are the more advantages strategies?
Obtaining the course map? Hack into the computers/servers/etc?
Obtaining the map? Study up on the terrain and map features etc?
Track the course setter, etc?
Track the first racer(s) to figure out course, etc?
Get a racer to use an app to track and send the course, etc?
Track your racer and guide them by wireless communications, etc?
Wearable aids that tell you, distance, climb, bearing, if you are off track, etc?
Feb 26, 2021 1:39 PM # 
I'm surprised that I haven't yet heard of anyone creating a pocket device that would allow a runner to disappear into some bushes, type in the splits that he wants, and upload them to an SI card. Then all that's left is to sneak around and do the last part of the course (maybe just the last control and the finish). Shouldn't be too difficult to build, and at some (most?) events, you could probably get away with it. (The first step in thwarting this would be to stop printing the punch codes on the control descriptions sheet!)
Feb 26, 2021 2:37 PM # 
You could still print a code on the description sheet, you just make it so the code on the box and the code in the box are different.
Feb 26, 2021 3:20 PM # 
JJ, that would be easy to catch, at least with SI. The SI box at the control also keeps the record of the punch so you can check the control box to confirm if they've actually been there.
Feb 26, 2021 3:21 PM # 
Runner takes a photo of the map on way to 1st control, which goes to course analysis team, who put together an optimal course, and push the track to the runner's Google Glass or Smart Contact Lens, which overlays the course on the terrain, with a heading bug, distance to control, distance remaining, etc.

Course analysis team also uses 1st runner's result to tweak the course for their other runners.
Feb 26, 2021 3:54 PM # 
The box does keep a record, but who ever checks that? Assuming the runner doesn't do anything else to arouse suspicion, ths boxes are rarely if ever checked, and I've been led to believe that in some places there are rules against doing so.

Cristina is right, it's weird that we use what is essentially the "punch pattern" as the control code. In the days of pin punching, the punch patterns were never distributed in advance. This has also led to weird things like the rule in the USA that you can't use a control code greater than 255.
Feb 26, 2021 4:40 PM # 
The box does not keep a record of Air cards. At least, ours don't. It's of some concern to us when it comes to SAR.
Feb 26, 2021 5:17 PM # 
If such a device (JJ) was developed, Cristina's solution seems a simple way to thwart it: Just make he codes on the description sheet and the outside of the control unit different from the code internally programmed in the unit and the results program. You wouldn't even have to do this for every control, just maybe 2 or 3 per course.

Even now, a person using such a device might get caught or arouse suspicion accidentally when a "replacement control" with a different internal code is rushed out into the field as a replacement for a failed or missing unit. If they came back with a punch for "35" at a time when there was no longer a working "35" unit in the field, for example.

Of course, a very serious cheater with such a device could also have a team of field operatives to run to all the controls, pop each one off the base, read the "real" codes, and then enter that into the fake programming. Although, as the number of people involved in a cheating scam increases, so does the chance of mistakes or exposure.

True, Charlie, that the boxes do not retain a record of Air cards; and JJ, that the boxes are rarely actually read. Plus, a really dedicated cheater with a support team and a few "clear backup" cards could erase the memory on the boxes before they are even brought in from the field.
Feb 26, 2021 5:34 PM # 
JJ, my understanding that you can't use a code higher than 255 is because early SI cards couldn't store a number higher than 255 (something about 256 bit memory).

31 to 255 (225 possible codes) is likely still greater than the number of all of the unique pin-punch patterns that were ever produced.

I wouldn't see any reason to keep or adhere to the 255 cap for the externally displayed code, as long as the internal code doesn't exceed 255. At the time the rule was made, it was just assumed that the internal and external codes would be the same.
Feb 27, 2021 3:34 AM # 
What's the point of participating in a sport like orienteering if you're going to cheat?
Feb 27, 2021 4:38 AM # 
It's been awhile since I competed. Curious what the limits of acceptable technology are now days. (I recently got a fancy smartwatch, and have been pondering what capabilities might be useful)

I never recalled any concerns about using a watch to record splits in the past, even though that could in principle be used as a rough navigational/strategy aid (elapsed time).

I was also never concerned about tracking heartrate, which I found useful as a tool for making sure I stay mentally sharp during the race and don't overexert.

But what if your watch tracks running speed? Or counts steps? Or elapsed distance? Or elevation? My new watch even has built-in topomaps, which would be killer for relocating after an error, or tracking progress while running. I'm curious which data features would be considered fair-use, and which are unfair?
Feb 27, 2021 6:14 AM # 
IOF Foot O Rules:

Orienteering is a sport in which the competitors navigate independently through the terrain. Competitors must visit a number of control points marked on the ground in the shortest possible time aided only by map and compass . The course, defined by the location of the controls, is not revealed to competitors until they start.

my emphasis

During the competition the only navigational aids that competitors may use or carry are the map and control descriptions provided by the organiser, and a compass.

Competitors shall not use or carry telecommunication (voice or text) equipment between entering the pre-start area and reaching the finish in a race, unless the equipment is approved by the organiser.
GPS-enabled devices (watches etc.) can be carried provided that:
• they have no map display
• they have no telecommunication ability
• they are not used for navigation purposes.
However, the organiser has the right to specifically forbid the use of such equipment. The organiser may require competitors to carry a tracking device and/or a GPS data logger.

21.5 (WOC JWOC WCup)
Competitors shall not use or carry telecommunication (voice or text) equipment between entering the pre-start area and reaching the finish in a race, unless the equipment is approved by the organiser.
GPS-enabled devices (watches etc.) shall not be carried unless the device has been provided by the organiser. The organiser may require competitors to carry a tracking device and/or a GPS data logger.


Those rules make it quite clear most of the things mentioned above are not allowed. Depending on how strictly you interpret these rules I guess you also say using a heart rate monitor to adjust you pace is not allowed but that is debatable. and in practice has never seemed to have been considered cheating.

The only real question is how and when to enforce those rules. It is reasonable to ban personal gps devices at international events but not at local events where having a gps trace to analyze afterwards is part of the fun.

What's the point of participating in a sport like orienteering if you're going to cheat?

to get better results. That may seem pointless at lesser events when the only thing at stake is honor, but to some people that matters enough to cheat no matter what. At the other end of the scale (international events) better results can have very concrete benefits: prize money, endorsements, govt funding etc
Feb 27, 2021 9:24 AM # 
I don't know which is worse - the consideration of cheating or all the fancy methods many APers have already come up with to do so!
Feb 27, 2021 11:14 AM # 
IIRC, sometime ago (I think it was tha 1989 WOC?), there was a question put to the meet officials as to whether a competitor (a "träskräv", if you will) could wear a heart rate monitor. And I believe the answer at the time was "no". That attitude has changed.

At one point I got the USA Rules Committee to rescind the rule about control codes not exceeding 255. Then there was vociferous pushback from someone who does meet results. The problem is that SI-5 cards used an 8-bit field to store the code, and if you use a code > 255 and somebody shows up with an SI-5 card, all hell breaks loose. One solution is to stop allowing SI-5 cards. The other is, of course, to have the SI code not be the control code, but people get all in a tizzy when you suggest that and say that it gets too complicated and course setters would make all kinds of errors (as well as saying that the rule is the only way to keep people from using SI codes > 255). I guess if you assume that it can't be done, then there's no hope. And it's not a problem until somebody builds the device I was talking about.

Even in the days prior to all of our new technology, there were plenty of methods available for cheating. In his book Murder at the 14th Control, Wilf Holloway had a short story imagining a guy who wins the WOC, and on the podium confesses that he cheated his way up through the ranks to make it to the elite level, onto his national team, and to the gold medal. The gist of the story is to point out all of the "security holes" in orienteering even in the low-tech 1980s. It's been said that it's one reason orienteering is unlikely to be in the Olympics, too many ways available to cheat if something important were on the line.
Feb 27, 2021 1:09 PM # 
As somebody who does know the detailed memory layout of SIcards, I can confirm that writing an app for a smartphone that connects to a SI-reader, then reads a chip, subtracts 10% and writes that data back is quite easy to do. BUT! As some have pointed out above, there are some simply implemented traps for such things, and it will definitely get more difficult the higher you rise:
* times on chip will differ from times in control stations (if not SIAC AIR+)
* times on chip will differ from times from radio controls (also AIR+!)
* times on chip will differ from finish protocol (or photofinish, if exists)
* as soon as you're in the level of GPS-tracked events, you're out (unless you remove the GPS and switch it off)

So quite definitely, add one or two controls with internally different codes from the ones printed on the box and in the control description. It could even just be the very last control, as seen numerous times at TioMila and Jukola with 111, 222, 333 (and 333, being technically impossible for SIcard5, internally being 133 or something).

By the way, back in the days of pin-punches - there was always this tale of a German athlete who retired from a M21 course, made his way back punching random controls he saw, handed his punch-card in and received a valid and rather good result - because the random controls happened to have the exact correct punch patterns!
Feb 27, 2021 4:36 PM # 
For EMIT races, the organisers supply exactly the device you need with your bib: Win with a pin.
Feb 27, 2021 5:22 PM # 
The story of the German athlete is very reminiscent of the famous "La Surprise Americaine" story involving the very same "träskräv" mentioned above. Somebody else probably knows the details more accurately, it's been a while since I heard it from the fox's mouth. I think at the point when he lost interest in the course, he just filled up the rest of his punch card with the same punch, from the last control that he visited. His success made the newspapers the next day, and I suppose it was rather embarrassing to the organizers when the truth came out and it was obvious that they hadn't actually checked the punches. Does anybody know if I got that right?
Feb 27, 2021 6:10 PM # 
Yup that is pretty much what happened JJ. It was the French 6-day in 1986 and a day or two before a world Cup race. Several of the Canadian and American teams decided to just run part of the course to not over do it. We were all given a DNF but not swamp fox and “won” by a few minutes. At the awards that evening the announcer was extra excited but swamp fox was a no show. then the next day his great “win” made the newspaper with, like you said, La Surprise Americaine".

We gave him the nickname Mikell Plattini after that.
Feb 27, 2021 9:30 PM # 
At a club event some years ago we accidentally (what else?) had a put Clear unit on one of the controls. Almost all runners on a particular course came back without a complete set of controls in their SI-stick since all punches on the first part of the course had been erased. Only one runner had those early and also the last few punches right - it turned out he had DNF´d without visiting the Clear box.
(Since it was only a club event we OK´d all the runners since we still had their finish times.)
Feb 28, 2021 2:10 AM # 
When I first saw this thread I thought nobody would respond. But..... after chuckling over the past few days I've got a cheat which, apparently, is perfectly legal (and disgraceful).
At WMOC sprint finals in Copenhagen I was one minute from the control description table. All of a sudden two Scandinavians started going ape-shit with officials and an Eastern European. The Eastern European had instantly grabbed his description on arriving at the table and for the next 59 seconds compared his codes with everyone else's, by walking around the table. It was instantly clear he was looking for someone to follow from the start line. The result..... a simple shrug from the organisers and two minutes of distracting pandemonium.
Feb 28, 2021 11:10 PM # 
Eastern Europeans are real bad. They are looking for opportunities to cheat all the time. Also, they talk in the worst accent known to man.
Mar 2, 2021 4:41 AM # 
That rule "aided only by map and compass" has always been mildly annoying to me, simply because it's clearly not meant to be interpreted rigorously and legalistically.

We are of course aided by numerous things besides the map and compass. Spiked shoes (which help us run faster through terrain), protective gear (which helps us take more aggressive routes), glasses (which help us read the maps), water bottles (which help us keep hydrated), and pacing devices (like watches and heart rate monitors).

(Note - above I meant pacing in the sense of regulating speed, not in the sense of counting paces. I feel the latter crosses into the domain of an inappropriate navigational aid... but some others may disagree)

So interpretation of the rule "aided only by map and compass" becomes subject to some unstated and rather fuzzy assumptions about the domain of application.
Mar 3, 2021 6:08 PM # 
OUSA had a significant debate a few years ago about whether to restrict the wearing of technology that could be used as a navigational aid. The debate was pretty intense between long-time orienteers, who preferred the honor code approach and didn't think that smartwatches could really help that much anyway vs. those working with high-school athletes who had seen some rampant cheating and said that some teams would use whatever was available to gain an edge. The honor code crowd won out and our rules now explicitly state that you can carry anything you want with you on the course as long as you don't use it for navigation.
Mar 3, 2021 9:57 PM # 
To be clear, the long-time orienteers were interested in bringing along watches that could record a track of the run. At that time, the capability of available watches wasn't that much better than no-display trackers, and it seemed ridiculous to require people to get a separate tracker for that purpose. About all a watch could do then was to provide a more accurate measure than pace counting. At this point watches and other devices have gotten better, and the debate could arise again, perhaps with cell phones being the contentious item, with safety being the argument for them, and rapidly expanding capabilities being the argument against.

I don't know, however, that we've reached the point where it makes a difference at the upper levels. For school competitions, with relatively inexperienced competitors, yes, there are opportunities to improve one's performance with these things. At the WOC level, there's not much improvement to be made over the map and compass. Jörgen Mårtensson, back in the day, notably did not wear a watch when orienteering, with his coach commenting that Jörgen had no need to know the time during a race. Maybe with more advances, this could change?

Shoes, gaiters, glasses, and water bottles are not "navigational aids", which is what Rule 21.3 talks about.
Mar 4, 2021 3:34 AM # 
I think it's unlikely we'd change the rule currently. While we still have issues related to cheating with high school teams, it still tends to be more about following and cooperating while on course and not about technology. To the extent technology is an issue, it's due to using it for communication and not navigation.
Apr 4, 2021 11:08 PM # 
Thanks for the fair points that you've all brought up.

I ended up taking a general point of view based on our national rulebook.

Dealt with what is cool to do and to use in races and what types of freedoms the organizers are allowed to take. LiDar, covering the screen if your watch can display maps, using internet's open source material etc. Would rewrite it now... but I produced the entire paper, so I felt like I had no time to expand.

It was an open-ended question because I hadn't decided which point of view to take. Anyway, this is a cool thread that gave me something to think about.
Apr 5, 2021 8:13 AM # 
Since AP has no like button ... I hope you took on board Dennis Wildfogel point - the best in the thread. In most events, with most of these tricks, the only person you're cheating is yourself.

This discussion thread is closed.