DISGUSTED BY THE MISUSE OF POWER
At the age of almost 30 years, Marijn de Vries wanted to prove that she could still play a significant role in professional women’s cycling. Against everyone’s expectations, she managed very well. Meanwhile, she has stopped cycling. She is now a journalist with her own column which is highly appreciated. Moreover, she has a function in the Board of the National Dutch Cycling Federation. Her story is about the sickening abuse which she was confronted with as a cyclist.
A horrifying story from the practice of cycling. Where she was treated in one team in a scandalous manner by her coach, the soigneur and a mechanic. She was 30 years old, had a good education, she had a sharp tongue and yet she let it all happen at that time. Great class she is now telling the whole story.
MARIJN DE VRIES
With the creeps running down my spine I read last week the growing flow of messages from English football. Former pro player Andy Woodward was the first to begin to tell what had happened to him as a boy: he was raped hundreds of times by his youth coach.
“I knew it was wrong, but I wanted to play football so badly”
Former professional footballer
Now, at the age of 43, he finally dared to talk about it. With only one reason: to encourage others to open their mouths, because he was sure that many more players were abused in their youth.
It appeared to be so. Almost immediately three other former pros were there to share similar experiences. A hastily opened hotline got another fifty reports within two hours. My heart broke for sure of the little phrase from one of the old pros, “I knew it was wrong, but I wanted to play so badly.”
I do not really want to read or see these kinds of messages because they make me sick. But they are also messages that are indescribably important. Wherever children, but also adults, are in a dependent position, power is abused. Sexually abused. Intimidated. Belittled. It turns out each time again. And only by talking about it, however difficult that may be, it can change things.
LESS BEAUTIFUL THINGS There was the masseur who regularly managed to touch my pussy lips during a massage.
My experiences are absolutely peanuts compared to that of the English footballers. But I have experienced also less beautiful things during my cycling career. There was the mechanic who pushed me vigorously against a wall and then started screaming at me for no reason. There was the masseur who managed to touch my pussy lips during a massage. Mostly through the fabric of my pants, but sometimes he even managed to slip his fingers into my panties.
At first I thought he did not do it on purpose. It’s just clumsiness. Later I thought, if you listen to your feelings, you know perfectly well that it is different. This is not by accident. That cannot be. Right?
I doubted myself. Let him have his way because I wanted no fuss. And I was nota bene 30! With nevertheless a lot more life experience than my 18 year old teammates, who were with him on the same massage table.
There was the team leader who told me weekly that I was totally not talented and knew nothing at all about cycling. I had to buzz off from cycling
There was also the team leader who told me week in, week out that I had no talent for cycling. I had to buzz off from cycling, because it was totally useless for me to stay. How sweet was my revenge the season after, when I stayed within the ranks of the twenty best women cyclists in the world throughout the spring and could show him without words that he was wrong. But his voice has been in my head for years.
The English Football Association has announced an investigation into the sexual abuse. The only proper response. Because the assumption that those things no longer take place, is an illusion. A few months ago, the Dutch Cycling Federation, Marijn de Vries is a member of the Board of the Dutch Cycling Federation, decided to open an investigation into intimidation in cycling. Because nothing is more important than a safe sports environment. For children and for adults.
As they are insignificant compared to English football, I have pondered about the above words for long. Yes, I am ashamed. And I find it scary that now anyone can read my experiences. But I am convinced that the only way to achieve a safe sports environment is to talk about this stuff.
BRAM BAKKER, sports psychologist
It is striking how much heinous craziness is going on in sport without the truth coming out. It has everything to do with a performance environment where, if you want to succeed the only option is: keep your mouth shut.
JEFFREY KIMMELS, COMMUNICATIONS CONSULTANT, DUTCH CYCLING FEDERATION
“Whether this sort of thing more often occurs in sports than in other sectors? In sport, there is more physical contact. In cycling you have to deal with athletes on the massage table, in locker rooms and race discussions. Intimidation unfortunately occurs throughout society, whether it is sports or business. “
GEERT SLOT, SPOKESMAN, OLYMPIC COMMITEE
“The big problem lies in the willingness to report,” said Geert Slot. “Apparently that is for many victims a step too far”.
Two weeks ago, the radio program Argos spent attention to sexual abuse in sport. It referred to research showing that 12 percent of former athletes have such experiences.
ABUSE IN ENGLAND
2016 11 15
Andy Woodward, former football player said in an interview with The Guardian that he was sexually abused by his youth coach from his 11th year.
He no longer wanted to live. He had anxiety attacks and depressions, walked with a rope in the forest because he did not want to live anymore. Now, five weeks after he has told his story, it shows how important that was. During that period, 429 victims reported incidents to the authorities. They pointed to 155 offenders in 148 football clubs.
ABUSE IN AMERICA
2016 12 28
In the past 20 years 368 young gymnasts have been abused in the United States. This is evident from the minutes of the police and the courts. These boys and girls are from across the whole country. The abuse took place by trainers, coaches and sports hall owners. Officials of the respective unions would have done nothing to prevent the abuse while they were well aware, in several cases.
ABUSE IN THE NETHERLANDS
2016 12 28
In the Netherlands the Olympic sports federation launched a major investigation into the existence of sexual abuse during the past 30 years. Every year the Olympic sports federation receives 200 reports of sexual violence. According to experts, this figure should be multiplied by a factor of 20. It is known that 95 percent of the cases are not reported. According to a study on sexual harassment in sport in the Netherlands, 12 percent of the athletes under 18 years old had experience with a form of sexual abuse.
THE NUMBER OF SEXUALLY ABUSED CHILDREN IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH RUNS UP TO THOUSANDS
Experts have evidence that the problem is much bigger than the sport itself deems possible. In sports, there are many parallels with the Catholic Church where the problem was initially underestimated. Later it turned out that thousands of children were abused for years. On that basis, the problem is likely to be much larger than people thought possible in sports.
WHY DOES SEXUAL VIOLENCE REMAIN HIDDEN?
Restraint and fear in the victims. The reluctance to report. Many victims do not report out of shame. Many victims themselves feel guilty.
Ambitious young people keep quiet because otherwise they will not reach the top.
A dysfunctional registration system.
Sports associations and sports clubs often do not know how to react or want to protect their reputation.
What happens regularly, the silencing of the victim. “Someone is isolated. And people who say they have seen something, or take the side of the victim, are considered disloyal to the club. “
The burden that victims of sexual violence carry with them is huge. Many have been silent about it in the past and tried to handle this themselves. The advice is to anyone to whom something happened to talk about it as soon as possible.