Ian Adamson and Michel Cutait

World Obstacle was born from the desire to legitimise, promote, develop and grow obstacle sports around the world. 

The organisation was established in 2014 in the United States of America as the International Obstacle Racing Federation.

In 2018 it was formalised as a Swiss not for profit and renamed World Obstacle, with its headquarters in Lausanne, the Olympic capital. This move was made to be closer to the international sports community and notably the Olympic movement.

Today World Obstacle, formally called the Fédération Internationale de Sports d'Obstacles, is the sole international governing body for the sports of obstacle course racing, ninja competitions and adventure racing. 

As a reflection of the growth of the sport worldwide, and our efforts to promote these sports, World Obstacle was granted Global Associations of International Sports Federations (GAISF) observer status by the GAISF Council in September 2021.

Like many organisations, World Obstacle was born from our own community of athletes, event organisers, participants, and popular television show competitions.

Unlike most sporting organisations we created the international sport through reverse engineering its structure and systems. This was achieved by examining existing sports models and structures, to rebuild, reassemble, and innovate the way we run our sports.

The initial architecture of World Obstacle’s governance structure was created by examining the top ranked international sports by the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations, international sport media rankings, and by following advice from the GAISF Membership Commission.

In the beginning the federation's development process was organic, gaining strength as the obstacle sports community found common goals being proposed by our organisation. 

We identified three primary pillars that are common to all successful sports -  a - close collaboration with all parties of interest including national governing bodies, the athlete community, spectators/ viewers, commercial interests, event producers, local Organising Committees, media content producers and outlets - b - thriving participation with healthy youth and sport development, and c - influence and advice from all stakeholders.

The objectives were clear, present, and challenging, to make World Obstacle the central hub for supporting athletes, promoting the sports, and growing participation of our members in countries around the world.

In addition, we set out to establish a culture of ethics, inclusivity, fairness, environmental responsibility, health and wellness, and charitable giving. This culture emphasises diversity, SafeSport, anti-doping, sport for all and moral conduct.

To achieve these goals there were many possible strategies, but with that assumption of creating, proposing, and implementing disruptive methods, World Obstacle established fundamental principals that are constantly being cocreated by all our members, athletes, participants, coaches, officials, development partner, and administrators.

Action from the 2019 OCR World Championships in Esbjerg in 2018 ©World Obstacle
Action from the 2019 OCR World Championships in Esbjerg in 2018 ©World Obstacle

Some of these fundamentals have deeply shaped the identity of the organisation, and for this reason, they are worth understanding.

1. Governance with athletes and former athletes

Like any International Federation, World Obstacle is constituted in the form of an association, and has to comply with the governance, compliance, and legal frameworks required for these types of organisations. All rights, duties, powers and rules are set out in our statute and other internal rules.

The governance structure creates new patterns of participation for members in each of our bodies - the Central Board, Secretariat, Executive Committee, Athlete Advisory Councils, Technical Committees and Commissions. 

The members of and their chairs are nominated, appointed and occupied by people who have strong links with the community, many of them are still active athletes, others are former athletes, and all have participation in the development of the sport and disciplines in their countries or regions.

According to our statutes, all bodies must be represented by each continental region and respect the balance of representation in terms of gender and diversity.

2. Embrace digital change

Another foundation that defines the organisation is our digital systems, whether in the way we communicate, the use of resources, media engagement, or the approach to solving day-to-day problems.

Starting with the first World Obstacle Congress held in-person and on Zoom, our digital collaboration platform, virtual events or remote work, our organisation has been practicing this digital revolution since 2015. 

This includes carrying out our corporate events, assemblies, Congress and meetings of our internal bodies, through digital tools that allow us to build a more agile, robust and cost-effective federation. Our digital collaborative platform on Google Workspace provides efficiencies and cost containment that minimises bureaucracy and travel.

The administrative activities of our Secretariat on Workspace bring an interactive, collaborative and positive dynamism to ensure that all our members are connected on the same platform, as well as providing all stakeholder communication resources, data storage, productivity programs, applications and other tools focused on market intelligence.

Obstacle course racing features at multi-sport events, including the South East Asian Games, last held in the Philippines in 2019 ©World Obstacle
Obstacle course racing features at multi-sport events, including the South East Asian Games, last held in the Philippines in 2019 ©World Obstacle

3. Service focus

World Obstacle’s path does not follow traditional federative systems, because our proposal is to offer services, solutions, and support to our members and athletes first. This is done by:

Transferring the acquired knowledge as a source of information to all our members

Providing solutions that can be used by everyone in better conditions than if they did it alone

Providing assistance, support and direct guidance on issues related to governance, compliance, organisation, competitions and membership management.

Sharing data to increase market intelligence and to facilitate the performance assessment of each of our members

Providing additional services to make the relationship with all parties more efficient, productive and meaningful

4. Sports for all

To promote sports, organisations have created solid structures in relation to professional sports and elite or professional athletes, reverberating in high level competitions, boosting performance, and providing adequate support to athletes who make sport their profession.

Our analysis of participation in sports revealed an incredible opportunity to make sports accessible to everyone, regardless of level, performance, or proficiency, especially to young people, amateur athletes, women, the elderly and those in developing countries.

This observation was not fortuitous, because obstacle sports have been growing vigorously among participants around the world, regardless of their qualities, background, social conditions, and other aspects of socio-demographics. An example is the virtual "Unbreakable" virtual-physical event that was held in early 2020 by Spartan Race with World Obstacles,  which registered more than two million participants in 100 countries in the midst of the global pandemic.

All of our initiatives to grow participation in our sports are aimed to attract, engage and retain new participants for our competitions, our education programs, and most importantly to become members of our national federations.

A view of the course used during the 2019 Ninja World Championships in Russia ©World Obstacle
A view of the course used during the 2019 Ninja World Championships in Russia ©World Obstacle

5. Social responsibility

Social responsibility is a foundation of World Obstacle. Understanding the social role of organisations, especially those in sports, is an absolute imperative for several reasons.

Ensuring economic sustainability for the development of the organisation, sports, members, and athletes.

Generate a social impact for society.

Protect nature in all its aspects, minimising risks and contingencies that may harm the environment.

Ensure balance, respect, and participation of all stakeholders.

Carry out concrete actions to benefit those who need help.

The Altitude Obstacle Course Racers (OCR) World Championships and world’s highest OCR held last month in Tanzania included competitors from 26 countries. 

The Obstacle course race was conducted at an altitude of 6,000 metres, including breaking the fitness class altitude world record and setting the OCR altitude world record. 

To execute this event, 400 workers were hired from the local community, who were paid, fed, and accommodated throughout the organisation of the event, and providing financial support for 10,000 people for a year who were suffering from the economic consequences of the pandemic.

World Obstacle President Ian Adamson at a media conference during the 2019 Ninja World Championships in Russia ©World Obstacle
World Obstacle President Ian Adamson at a media conference during the 2019 Ninja World Championships in Russia ©World Obstacle

6. Local structure

A long term strategic goal for obstacle world level events is to collaborate with the host local Organising Committee, national federation, and Governmental organisations to provide long term economic benefit. 

Instead of bringing all resources, personnel, supplies and equipment from other locations, World Obstacle helps develop the local supply chain, local businesses and structures, generating a circular economy that ensures long-term relationships, creating conditions that stimulate the growth of sports in these locations.

We encourage our members to develop these same purposes within their territories, so that the productive capabilities, technical skills and structural conditions of the resources can be harnessed in an efficient way and adapted to local needs, ensuring the future of our sports in both time and space.

7. Purposeful partnerships

Our strategic plan is structured to build purposeful partnerships, which are not simply commercial partnerships in which one entity provides services or products to another, but partnerships that have common goals, that aim to multiply these benefits on behalf of all our members, and that cultivate long-term relationships.

In the past year we are proud to have partnered with more than 12 innovative leaders in international sport, all committed to delivering services and products that enable World Obstacle and our national federation members to access resources, tools, technology, applications, and knowledge that are essential for connecting obstacle sports in the era of information, digital transformation, and the collaborative, circular, and sustainable economy.

These relationships must also be reciprocal, which is why World Obstacle advocates for these partnerships with our members and community. All of our partners were invited to introduce themselves to our members at the 7th World Obstacle Congress held in September, making it easier for them to connect with each other and generate more engagement.

Our culture is to adapt to and pursue positive change, to think of new strategies, to act with responsibility, transparency and ethics, and to overcome obstacles in creative, innovative and intelligent ways. It's no wonder that our sports are called obstacle sports, because each one of our athletes, each one of us, maintains this attitude of fearlessness, courage, and determination to deal with difficulties in the best way possible, overcoming obstacles, and achieving our goals.

We have a lot of work ahead of us, and next year we will begin to implement the new World Obstacle competition calendar with World Championships, World Series, and World Finals in each sport and discipline. 

We will continue to expand our presence in other countries that are developing obstacle sports, and by growing, improving and working hard, we are confident that we will build a successful future, for the good of our sports, but mostly for the empowerment of our community, members, athletes, participants, and viewers because ultimately, this will allow us to build a better society through sport.