Olympics: Sex Offenders Have No Place at the Games

Survivor-led Groups Call for Disqualification of Athlete Sex Offender From Paris 2024

(Nyon, Switzerland – 5 July, 2024) The International Olympic Committee (IOC) should prohibit Dutch volleyball player Steven Van de Velde’s participation in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, the Sport & Rights Alliance Athletes Network for Safer Sports, The Army of Survivors, and Kyniska Advocacy said today. The athlete has recently qualified for the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris despite being a convicted child sex offender.

“Van de Velde’s presence on the Dutch Olympic team completely disrespects and invalidates the survivor of his crimes,” said Kate Seary, co-founder & director, Kyniska Advocacy. “His participation sends a message to everyone that sporting prowess trumps crime.”

Van de Velde, convicted and imprisoned in 2016 for raping a 12 year-old child by a British court, is currently representing the Netherlands in beach volleyball at Paris 2024, after serving only one year of his sentence. His participation is supported by the Dutch National Volleyball Association, who says “he meets all the qualification requirements for the Olympic Games and is therefore part of the team.”

“An athlete convicted of child sexual abuse, no matter in what country, should not be awarded the opportunity to compete in the Olympic Games,” said Julie Ann Rivers-Cochran, Executive Director of The Army of Survivors. “Despite Van de Velde’s justifications, there is no excuse for raping a child. Van De Velde’s statement reveals a lack of remorse and understanding of the consequences of his actions. Raping a minor is not a ‘misstep’– it is a criminal violation that should exclude people from participation in the Olympic Games.”

After being sentenced for three counts of rape of a minor, Van de Velde was extradited to the Netherlands, where he was released after serving only one year of his four-year sentence. His participation at the Olympics in Paris is supported by both the Dutch National Olympic Committee (NOC) and the National Volleyball Association.

“Being an Olympian is a privilege, not a right”, said Joanna Maranhão, Network Coordinator of the Athletes Network for Safer Sports, a program of the Sport & Rights Alliance to build connection and power among impacted athletes. “Athletes who compete at the prestigious level of the Olympic Games are often perceived as heroes and role models – Van de Velde should not receive this honor. In contrast to what the Dutch NOC experts argue about low risk of recidivism, his qualification for the Games should also be scrutinized through a moral lens. His participation is already causing further harm to people with lived experience.”

Giving perpetrators of such a grave offense as sexual assault and rape the opportunity to compete on the sporting world’s largest stage is neither appropriate nor in line with Olympic values. The First Fundamental Principle of Olympism in the Olympic Charter highlights the Olympics’ role in creating a way of life based on “the educational value of good example, social responsibility and respect for internationally recognized human rights and universal fundamental ethical principles.”

The IOC also states that being an Olympian is a recognition of years of hard work, dedication and the promotion of the Olympic values. Currently the Olympic system has no background checks of sexual offence committed by sports governance leadership, coaches, trainers or athletes.

“To have a convicted rapist representing their country on a global stage not only goes entirely against the Olympic ideals and commitments but it shatters the IOC’s vision of building ‘a better world through sport,’” said Mhairi Maclennan, survivor, Co-Founder & CEO, Kyniska Advocacy.

The Sport & Rights Alliance Athletes Network for Safer Sports, The Army of Survivors and Kyniska Advocacy urge the IOC to take the following actions:

  • Issue a statement disqualifying Van de Velde from participation in the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.
  • Review and strengthen the Olympic eligibility criteria for all competitions, in consultation with civil society and affected people, to align with international safeguarding standards and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  • Conduct comprehensive background checks on all athletes, coaches, trainers, and individuals that will have access to athletes and/or the Olympic Village.

“We strongly encourage the IOC to choose institutional courage, seek the truth and engage in moral action, despite unpleasantness, risk, and short-term costs”, said Maranhão. “We call on the IOC to act swiftly and in solidarity with athletes and athlete survivors of abuse in sport.”

***

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Sport has the potential to be a catalyst for human development, unity, and freedom, but too often it instead brings harm to its athletes, fans, and communities. We exist to uncover and rectify the many abuses that exist both in and around sport. We aim to transform sports into an authentic force for good.