Dutch Olympic athletes face fines for delaying degrees
Dutch Olympic athletes are facing government fines because they delayed finishing their degrees.
About 50 of the athletes competing at the London 2012 Games are still at university or college.
For many of them, Olympic training commitments have interrupted their studies meaning they will be forced to pay thousands of euros in penalties.
Dutch law states that each student must pay standard tuition costs for the duration of their course.
Most courses last four years for most degrees, and slightly longer for subjects like medicine.
Among those facing fines is Wouter Brus, a 20-year-old member of the 4×100 m relay team, who is two years into a physiotherapy degree.
“It’s crazy. I don’t understand how they can say our country supports sport. Three thousand Euros [$3,741] is a lot of money. I don’t think it’s fair. I feel like I’m competing for my country but my country is not supporting me.”
On top of their allocated course of study, every student is given one additional year in which the normal tuition fees still apply.
If students exceed the deadlines, then they are charged.
“If I wanted to not get behind with my studies I would have to be in class every day. Sometimes we have training twice a day so it would be impossible. I have to choose between school and sport. I choose sport, so I get the fine.”
Freek Manche, a spokesman for the education ministry, says the government has already provided universities with the means to compensate students whose studies have been delayed by their Olympic training regimes.
“We provide institutions with 18 million Euros in <<profileringsfondsen>> [funds for making an institution stand out in chosen areas]. It’s up to them to compensate the Olympic students or choose to allocate the money elsewhere.”
But the majority of Dutch universities argue that the government should be providing extra cash to ensure that the potential of the country’s top sports stars is not hampered by the potential accumulation of massive debts caused by their sporting dedication.
Nienke Meijer, the vice-president at Fontys University of Applied Sciences, says: “We definitely think that a national government that pushes so hard on our Olympic ambitions should help athletes to finish their studies without fines.”
She believes the Dutch government is using the young athletes to boost the Netherlands’ bid for the 2028 Games but failing to support their academic responsibilities.
“Don’t only focus on the golden medals they can win today for our country, but also help them to finish their studies in the meantime so they also have a great future after their sporting careers.”
The extra funds provided by the government are limited. If that money is used to compensate the sports students then the universities argue that others will suffer.
And, in the short term, their fear is that the prospect of fines will affect athletes performance at London 2012.
But relay racer Wouter Brus says his mind is fully focused on the track and field.
“The Olympics are everything. I will not focus on a fine I will get in two years. I will focus on my execution and my team, they are the most important things right now.”