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Dutch Olympic Organizers Defend Participation of Athlete Convicted of Rape

LocalDutch Olympic Organizers Defend Participation of Athlete Convicted of Rape

The Dutch Volleyball Association and Dutch Olympic organizers are standing by their decision to send a man convicted of rape to the Paris Olympics this summer to represent the Netherlands in beach volleyball.

In 2014, the man, Steven van de Velde, now 29, traveled to England, where he raped a 12-year-old girl whom he had met on Facebook. A British court sentenced him in 2016 to four years in prison. After a year, he was transferred to the Netherlands, where his sentence was adjusted based on Dutch law. In total, Mr. van de Velde spent just over a year in prison.

Afterward, he received professional counseling, the volleyball association said.

The Dutch Olympic Committee and the Dutch Volleyball Association are allowing Mr. van de Velde to compete based on the advice of experts who they say have deemed the chance of a repeat offense very low, according to the association’s website. Mr. van de Velde resumed his beach volleyball career in 2017.

While international news media covered his Olympic participation with a sense of outrage, the story did not gain much traction in the Netherlands. Dutch news outlets largely reported on international media and how they covered the case.

“Particularly abroad, there was reason to rekindle the past of the 29-year-old beach volleyball player,” the volleyball association wrote in a statement on its website.

Sara Alaoui, the founder and director of the Safe Space Club, a nonprofit organization that works with victims of sexual abuse, said she was surprised at the lack of attention on this story compared with other, less consequential, sports news. (For example, Dutch news media covered the soccer player Memphis Depay wearing a headband during a recent match.)

Mr. van de Velde has admitted to the crime and told Dutch news media that it was the worst mistake of his life.

“It’s a huge mistake, nobody would deny that. I can’t do anything about that anymore,” Mr. van de Velde said in 2018 in an interview with the Dutch broadcaster NOS. “I cannot reverse it, so I will have to bear the consequences.”

Ms. Alaoui said that she was disappointed in what she called a lack of remorse and introspection by Mr. van de Velde. It sends the message that “if you are a white Adonis, you have less to answer for,” she said.

“If you’re really sorry and this is the biggest mistake of your life, than you have to show why you deserve a second chance,” Ms. Alaoui said. One way would have been to work with organizations that fight against sexual abuse, she said.

“I don’t understand that this is how we handle this in post-MeToo the Netherlands,” she said. “We’re talking about child abuse here.”

Olympic organizers were aware of Mr. van de Velde’s history and said in their statement that they had spent a lot of time talking to him.

“When van de Velde looks in the mirror now, he sees a mature and happy man, married and the father of a beautiful son,” the Dutch Volleyball Association, called Nevobo in Dutch, wrote on its website.

Michel Everaert, the volleyball association’s general director, said in a statement, “He is proving to be an exemplary professional and human being and there has been no reason to doubt him since his return.”

Mr. van de Velde is not the first Olympian to have been convicted of a crime. Most notoriously, Tonya Harding qualified for the United States figure skating team in the 1994 Winter Olympics and was suspected of involvement in an attack on a rival, Nancy Kerrigan. Ms. Harding was allowed to compete, awkwardly on the same team as Ms. Kerrigan, and placed eighth. She later pleaded guilty to hindering the prosecution and was fined and sentenced to probation and community service.

Bruce Kimball was a silver medalist in diving in 1984 and hoped to return to the U.S. Olympic team in 1988. Two weeks before the Olympic trials, he hit a group of teenagers while driving drunk, killing two of them. Mothers Against Drunk Driving and friends of the victims objected to his participation in the trials, but he was allowed to compete. He finished fourth and sixth in his two events, failing to make the team, and eventually served four years in prison.

Victor Mather contributed reporting

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