Last week, it became apparent that the situation at the Dutch National Triathlon training Center (NTC) is worrying, with stories about a culture of fear, harassment, and some athletes feeling left out and ignored by their coaches. “We are trained until we break and there is no attention for the individual needs of athletes,” athletes told Dutch triathlon news outlet 3athlon.nl anonymously. Unfortunately, after this first reveal, the bad story continued. Various former and current pro triathletes accused the Dutch National Triathlon Federation (NTB) of “selling” athletic stipends.
On a monthly basis, athletes that practice an Olympic sport can receive government support – an athletic stipend – depending on their age these ‘salaries’ vary from 910 euros up to 2,547 euros a month. While some athletes get this support because they meet certain objective criteria, others are subjectively selected by the national triathlon federation. The latter group of athletes is in a way forced to pay the federation an amount of 750 euros per month. The selection process is non-transparent, the matter isn’t mentioned in any (financial) documents; only a general contribution of 400 euros per three months, thus 1600 euros per year. Additionally, athletes that receive the stipend are strictly told not to talk about it to anyone. In case two athletes would subjectively be selected for this stipend, the NTB would annually earn an extra 18,000 euros, which was supposed to be for the athletes.
It means that whereas athletic stipends are meant to support an athlete in order for them to be able to fully focus on their athletic career, the NTB earned a lot of money of it. In some cases, when it concerned young athletes, the federation even took the lion’s share and left the athlete only with a few hundred euros. Athletes agreed, as they would at least still earn a little money. By rejecting, they would stand a chance to no longer be selected for certain races. Also, the athletic stipend would just be passed on to someone else, who was instead willing to hand over 750 euros a month.
“The vulnerable athletes end up paying”
“It’s a very selective policy, in which the most vulnerable athletes end up paying. The NTB likes to hand out these athletic stipends, as they earn a lot of money of it through these athletes. And we shouldn’t discuss it with anyone, because then our athletic stipends are taken away from us,” one of the athletes anonymously told 3athlon.nl.
“I wasn’t able to pay my bills”
Another athlete explains: “Of course, we don’t earn much as triathletes. You really need that athletic stipend to make it through the month. After paying my taxes, I was left with about 1000 euros, but then I still had to pay 750 euros to the federation. I ended up in a situation where I wasn’t able to pay my bills. I asked for a meeting with Adrie (Berk, technical director, ed.) to see if we could arrange something. The only thing he told me was that I had to continue paying the money, or otherwise I would lose my athletic stipend. In a way, that means it was for sale… If you weren’t able to afford it, it would be granted to someone else instead.”
NOC*NSF in contradiction to NTB statement not familiar with the payment of 750 euros
Meanwhile, the Dutch National Federation only communicates through press releases, stating the accusations are false, and that everything is in consultation with the National Olympic Committee (NOC*NSF). On 3athlon.nl it later became apparent that NOC*NSF is not familiar with the 750 euros that athletes had to give up. The Olympic Committee even recommended athletes to do something about it. Even despite the dissent from NOC*NSF, and the proof of bank transfers of these 750 euros, the NTB – again – commented that the information is false and that they wait for the outcomes of the official research rapport, which is expected sometime this week. Whether this rapport will contain any up-to-date information remains the question. It’s also unsure, whether the NTB will make the research findings public.
NTB keeps quiet and denies, while the Triathlon Council and more people start to speak up
While the NTB mostly keeps quiet and awaits the rapport, more and more stories reach the surface. Parents of (former) athletes shared their experience with their kids leaving the NTC with major injuries, eating disorders or depression. Also, the federation’s physician confirmed that things are completely off at the NTC, also mentioning that he has addressed the issues before. The same goes for the Triathlon Council, which stated that they already brought up the issues in meetings in 2019; minutes of these meetings have confirmed this. That while NTB President Rembert Groenman – present at these meetings with the Triathlon Council – denied that any of the matters were known to the federation, saying that the issues only became apparent to him last week, through the article on 3athlon.nl. If that alone isn’t worrying enough, the federation asked coaches of Regional Training Centers to keep quiet.