Dutch Triathlon Federation’s board resigns after research report confirms malpractices at National Training Center

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It started with some athletes anonymously sharing their experience with bullying, gossip, neglect and exclusion with the Dutch triathlon news website 3athlon.nl, a story that concerns the malpractices with the “selling” of athletic stipends – a detailed explanation here – followed, but while it remained mostly quiet at the Dutch National Triathlon Federation (NTB), yesterday, the NTB announced that the board of seven people has decided to resign. So far that means that NTB President Rembert Groenman and Technical Director Adrie Berk – who have frequently been mentioned by athletes to have played a major role in malpractices at the National Triathlon Training Center (NTC) – stay at their current position.

Summary of research findings

The stories about bullying, gossip, neglect and exclusion have been confirmed in a summary of the report by external research firm Fijbes, which the NTB shared in a press release yesterday. Based on interviews with athletes, staff and management, the Dutch report explains what the problems at the NTC are, and eventually they share thirteen recommendations on how to improve. The issues concern, like previously mentioned, bullying, gossip, neglect and exclusion of athletes, also within the Olympic selection; social dynamics in which certain signals are unnoticed; guidance on pedagogical, didactic, and group dynamics are limited according to the findings; there are big differences between athletes’ personal experience with the NTC, as a result of strong group formation; there is an appearance of a conflict of interest, mentioning family relations within the staff; and athletes have a high dependency of the NTC and NTB. Finally, the report mentions malpractices from the past that haven’t been investigated during the latest research that was performed, but Fijbes recommends the NTB to further look into this.

Thirteen recommendations

After these findings, the thirteen recommendations start with the advice to take action on short notice to improve social safety; plan additional evaluation based on these research outcomes; work on recognition and acknowledgement of problems and organize meetings with athletes who haven’t felt safe; improve guidance on group dynamics at the NTC; improve social dynamics within the Olympic selection and their staff by making use of an external mediator; improve didactic, pedagogical and social competences among staff members of the top sports program; organize a safe platform for athletes to provide input and constructive criticism concerning the training program; arrange a confidential advisor on short notice, who helps to recognize issues and makes work of it; make sure it’s clear how actions, as a result of these recommendations, are implemented; work on a better men/women balance within the coach staff; involve the board in the process that follows after receiving this research report; further investigate matters that have played a role in the past; consider investigating the situation with the athletic stipends.

NTB statement

In yesterday’s statement, the NTB mentioned to have hired Rita van Driel as an independent advisor in the field of social safety. Van Driel will make work of all thirteen recommendations that were made in Fijbes’ research report. “We also plan to investigate malpractices of the past on short notice”, the NTB added. “In the interest of top-level sports, the board makes room for a new board that is unencumbered by the past and can work on the future with new confidence and a fresh outlook”, Wim van Ooijen, (former) chairman of the NTB board, mentioned. “We have worked on a new plan of approach, which NTB President Rembert Groenman and the new board will further develop and execute this.”

Surprisingly, that means that the people who have really played a leading role in (ignoring) all the above-mentioned malpractices over the past years, thus far, stay in office, and in the case of Groenman, they are even given the great responsibility of finally breaking the chain and improving the situation for Dutch triathletes.