Brian Porteous elected IOF President

Congratulations to FVO member Brian Porteous on election as President of the International Orienteering Federation. The HeraldScotland website has a report on his first speech as president.

23rd Jul 12

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We wish Brian well in this 2-year post.

More detail is on the IOF website.

The following report is taken from the HeraldScotland website in case it disappears over time.

'NOW is the time for orienteering to stop being sport's best-kept secret," says Brian Porteous, pausing for effect.

If the line sounds rehearsed, a mantra honed and refined until the tone is just right, then little wonder. The same credo was delivered to the congress of the International Orienteering Federation in Lausanne last Friday in the Scot's first speech as the organisation's president.

It might be remarkable for a resident of Cupar to find himself in such a position but Porteous, himself, is a remarkable individual. A brief scan of his cv reveals his conception of orienteering clubs and the Glasgow marathon, work with the Scottish Sports Council and Glasgow's local authority and more recent projects advising the Irish Rugby Union and the Scottish Golf Union. The tag of "sport's best-kept secret" could equally apply to the 61-year-old.

The personable Porteous laughs off that notion, retorting that he is little more than "the man who holds the jackets while others hold discussions" but, for the next two years at least, he will be charged with plotting the correct course for orienteering amid a rapidly changing sporting landscape.

Ultimately, the destination is the Olympic Games. As a consequence of its various forms – ski, canoe or trail – orienteering could feasibly become part of either the summer or winter version but, first, the sport must enhance its profile. Hosting the general assembly on the doorstep of the Olympic movement in Lausanne was the beginning of a charm offensive and Porteous will now work towards adding to his organisation's 73 member countries and increasing the worldwide audience with a view to targeting a place in 2022.

Another strand will be moving the sport from the forests and rivers into more heavily populated areas. A sprint version of orienteering – based in city centres – has grown in popularity over the past decade and is something Porteous is keen to champion.

"If you look at the Olympics, many sports have adapted their rules so they can be included," he explains. "Rugby sevens is an example and we've got to be flexible, too, and become more visible to a wider audience because the perception doesn't match the reality. In Scandinavia, they watch orienteering regularly on television and it's understood by the whole population, but in much of the rest of the world it's unknown because it happens in forests rather than stadiums or sports halls. That is something we need to change."

The advent of satellite tracking, which enables spectators to follow the course of individual runners, has opened up possibilities for a sport that holds great appeal in France, Switzerland and the Czech Republic, as well as throughout Scandinavia but has struggled to gain traction on these shores. Indeed, despite being part of the curriculum in English schools, British Orienteering's membership only stretches to 12,000.

Yet rather than viewing that as a negative, Porteous sees only the potential for growth and believes the 2015 World Championships, to be held in Inverness, are key to that development. Twice before the event has been held in Scotland – in 1976, when London Marathon founder Chris Brasher was race director, and again in 1999 – and on both occasions this led to a spike in interest in a sport that remains relatively unknown. "People say, 'that's nice, you go for walks in the countryside,' so there's still a lack of understanding because the top guys are among the fittest in the world in any sport; they are running over very rough terrain while having to navigate at the same time," Porteous says. "Yet at the same time it is truly a sport for all, because if you go along to an event in Scotland you will find maw, paw and the kids. In fact, every public park in Glasgow is mapped to international standards."

That Porteous was depute director of parks and recreation for Glasgow City Council at the time might offer clues as to the genesis of that lottery funded project and, in fact, it would not be stretching the truth to describe him as the father of orienteering in Scotland.

The sport had scant history north of the border when, aged 16, Porteous was asked by a PE teacher to cobble together a team for the Scottish Schools Championship in 1968 on the grounds that he "ran cross-country, was in the Scouts and wasn't good enough for rugby". Within a couple of years, he had helped found a club at St Andrews University. "And that was the end of my degree in physics; instead I got a first-class honours in orienteering."

A stint as a physics teacher ended when he began working for British Orienteering, before he moved to the Scottish Sports Council in 1979. By the time he left to join Glasgow's local authority in 1994, Porteous had helped launch the city's marathon and been involved with the team which travelled to the Commonwealth Games in Victoria, and would go on to hold a key role in the city's sporting provision before leaving to become a consultant just over a decade ago.

Since then, he has cherry-picked his projects, with his time currently being dedicated to Scottish Golf's Facilities Plan and advising the Irish rugby team how to win the 2015 World Cup.

"I'm trying to be semi-retired but I keep being invited to do interesting things like the Irish project," he explains. "I did their strategy back in 2004, then a major review after the 2007 World Cup and they asked me back after the last World Cup to help them plan for the next one. Let's just say it helps, me being a neutral."

Aside from a couple of other commitments with the Olympic movement, Porteous spends his time studying to become a reader in the Church of Scotland and takes weekly singing lessons. "I'm a tenor without a choir . . . but maybe that's one thing I should keep secret."

Report by
Richard Winton

Photo of authorPosted on 23rd Jul 12
by Hilary Quick