Dutch chiefs defend picking volleyball player convicted of raping 12-year-old for Paris Olympics

The decision by Dutch Olympic bosses to inflict a full inclusion of Steven van de Velde in their team bound for the Paris Olympics has raised a storm of controversy and debate. Steven van de Velde, a former 23-year-old beach volleyball player, was convicted and found guilty of raping a 12-year-old. The complexities of this decision are reviewed in this article from the viewpoints of the Dutch Olympic Committee, the legal and ethical considerations at play, public and sport community reactions, and consequences for the world of sport and beyond.


Steven van der Velden was sentenced to four years in prison in 2016 after admitting three counts of raping a child in the UK. This took place in 2014, when van de Velde was already 19 and had communicated with the 12-year-old victim through Facebook. He then traveled to Milton Keynes to commit the offense. Following his conviction, van de Velde spent part of his sentence in prison in the UK before being moved to a Dutch prison, in which the sentence given was changed under Dutch law to one allowing his release after 12 months.

Initially the judge had told Van de Velde that his actions had destroyed his olympic dreams of representing his country.(Mario Hommes/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)
Initially the judge had told Van de Velde that his actions had destroyed his olympic dreams of representing his country.(Mario Hommes/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

Van de Velde’s Return to Volleyball

Following his release, van de Velde determinedly retried to reintegrate into professional beach volleyball. Void evaluation and consultation procedures by Nevobo, the Dutch volleyball federation, and the National Olympic Committee, NOC*NSF, enabled them to make a decision on his re-entering the community. Nevobo’s general director, Michel Everaert, has referred to Van de Velde as an “exemplary professional and human being” ever since he returned; indeed, he said that he has always been at permanent disposal to every authority and has shown to be worthy of trust and support.

Ethical and Legal Considerations

Rehabilitation and Reintegration

An important consideration enlisted in the inclusion of Van de Velde in the Olympic team by supporters would be for the principle of rehabilitation and reintegration. They argue that he has served his punishment and undergone this intense, professionally guided process in exemplary fashion, and that he has fulfilled all requirements to be given another opportunity to compete at top-level sports. At the heart of all the reasoning is the principle of giving a person a second chance once they have paid their due to society.

Van de Velde, now 29, was sentenced to four years in a Dutch prison back in 2016 after he admitted to three counts of rape against a child. (Pablo Morano/BSR Agency/Getty Images)
Van de Velde, now 29, was sentenced to four years in a Dutch prison back in 2016 after he admitted to three counts of rape against a child. (Pablo Morano/BSR Agency/Getty Images)

Victim Rights of Public Safety

Those who oppose his inclusion cite the serious nature of his offense and, consequently, the message that is being portrayed to victims and the general public. Opponents argue that allowing a convicted child rapist to participate at an international level degrades efforts aimed at fighting sexual violence and gives succor to survivors of such violence. This debate needs to emphasize, among other things, the concerns regarding victim safety and rights, besides meeting the expectation of public trust in the integrity of sports.

Public and Media Reaction

The decision immediately provoked outrage and debate in the Netherlands and worldwide. Comments of disbelief, anger, and disappointment filled social media. Most have argued that van de Velde’s place in the team disrespects survivors of sexual violence and passes a very dangerous message on accountability and justice.

Support for Van de Velde

Some have backed up the decision by favorably alluding to his rehabilitation and the fact that van de Velde complied with all the due processes at legal requirements and conditions to resume his sport. They argue that he should be allowed to pick up the pieces and move on with his life and career after serving time.

Impact on the Sports Community

The van de Velde case in the Dutch Olympic team has huge repercussions within the sporting community. Such matters raise questions concerning the balance between second chances and the real need to uphold respectability and probity in sports.

Policies and Guidelines

Most notably, the case provoked widespread discussion within the sports community regarding regulations and policy on permitting athletes convicted of criminal offenses to compete at the competitive level. Calls are being made to strengthen and clearly outline regulations for making decisions transparently and consistently, concerning the violation and in view of the effect on victims and society in general.

Athlete Conduct and Accountability

This also brings to the fore the need for more accountability and scrutiny over the conduct of athletes. Calls are being made on sports organizations to institute a far-reaching vetting system and for athletes to adhere to the highest standards befitting their stature both inside and outside the field.

Broader Societal Implications

Beyond the world of sports, the decision to include van de Velde in the Olympic team reflects broader social challenges related to fairness, rehabilitation, and public perception.

Justice and Rehabilitation

This is a clear reflection of two goals that are always in tension in the criminal justice system: that of punishment and that of rehabilitation. One important question raised is the ability of society to offer the wrongdoer second chances and still hold them responsible for their actions, while at the same time allowing them the opportunity for redemption and re-entry.

Public Perception and Confidence

Public trust in institutions is important because the more public trust, the more this increases their legitimacy and effectiveness. Sports organizations and the criminal justice system therefore add up to the legitimacy and effectiveness of how the process is. The backlash against the Olympic selection of van de Velde simply points out the role of public confidence and how decisions should be transparent and based on values and expectations of society.


It is an awkward, highly divisive decision; thus, controversial, by Dutch Olympic bosses to support Steven van de Velde in his participation at the Paris Olympics. This engagement holds some critical questions one can pose on justice, rehabilitation, and the place, if any at all, for sports in society. It is summed up that one could appreciate the strong arguments coming from both camps, but what is extremely clear now is that it opens the much-required and long-overdue debate about how we handle cases connected with serious criminal convictions with regard to competitive sports. In furthering the debate, it is important to protect the rights and safety of victims in this process and maintain the integrity of sport and mankind in the decisions being taken through ethical transparency.

A deep look into the legal and ethical framework

Legal Rehabilitation Processes

It is necessary to get an understanding of the legal processes taken that allowed him a comeback to professional sports. It is through these differences within the UK and Dutch legal systems that van de Velde received an early release and subsequent reintegration.

UK Legal System

In the UK, van de Velde was sentenced based on their strict sexual offender laws. The four-year sentence showed much more weight toward dealing with his crimes. Much emphasis is placed on punishment in the UK, and rehabilitation centers are normally introduced during imprisonment.

Dutch Legal System

Upon his transfer to the Netherlands, his case was re-screened using Dutch legal criteria, focusing on rehabilitation and reintegration. Jail time is generally awarded along with a reduction in the sentence and a possibility of parole, especially if good behavior during rehabilitation efforts can be demonstrated.

Ethics Within Sport

The ethical question that the continual competition by van de Velde for Australia at the Olympics poses encompasses four basic areas of concern:

  • Rehabilitation vs. Punishment: Can an athlete who has served jail time and thereby provided ample evidence of rehabilitation be given a second chance to restart their career? This principle provides for second chances in general and also a social reentry.
  • Protection of Victims and Public: Ensure that you are not causing more damage to the victim of the crime or bringing the safety of the public into question because of their involvement.
  • Acting for Integrity in Sports: This is for safeguarding the spiritual and moral values of sports organizations. This, in a way, protects the good role model factor through athletes.

The social media backlash to van de Velde’s inclusion underlines massive public sentiment against allowing individuals with serious criminal convictions to represent their country in sport. Many tweets, posts, and comments reflect a profound belief in accountability and protection for the vulnerable.

Media Coverage

The media has paid a great deal of attention to the controversy, with a great deal of it focusing on the ethics and morality of the decision. Letters to the editor, articles, and editorials have highlighted the debate surrounding finding a balance between rehabilitation and the fact that ethical standards in sports need to be strictly observed.

Implications in the World of Sports: Policy and Practice

Policy and Guidelines Review

Post the controversy, many sports societies are now reconsidering and going through their policies and conditions regarding the criminal record of conviction of an athlete. This includes the following:

  • More Open Eligibility Criterion: Explaining clearly situations and conditions according to which convicted athletes might be reinstated and could compete back again.
  • Diligent Vetting Procedures: Establishing a better background check system and evaluation for an athlete desiring to practice with any professional team or desiring to contest in any major tournament.
  • Support Systems: Provide support systems to the victims and ensure they should be part of all forms of decision-making.

Athlete Conduct and Accountability

The controversy has also escalated into a debate about athlete conduct and the higher level of accountability demanded of athletes. According to this, the following is expected by the sports body:

  • Setting Higher Standards: Establish and uphold higher standards for athlete conduct on and off the field.
    Role Modeling and Ambassadorship: Encourage every athlete to serve as an example and an ambassador for the sport and the country.
    ** Enforcement of the Sanctions:** Ensure clarity and consistency of the sanctions for misconduct throughout all levels, including suspension, fines, and bans.

Implications in the Society at Large: Justice, Rehabilitation, and Confidence

Justice and Rehabilitation: Striking a Balance

This shows by way of giving an example of how justice and rehabilitation are so far from being a practical reality: that of Steven Van de Velde. This is a system that should punish the sinner by incarcerating him, but concurrently, it should also try to rehabilitate him back into society.

  • Punishment: Offenders need to be made to pay for wrong, criminal conduct.
  • Rehabilitation: Allow a sinner an opportunity to mend his ways and become useful members of society.
    It includes assistance in reintegration processes of the rehabilitee to society, work, and, for this case, professional sports.

Perception and Public Trust

Public trust of the criminal justice and sporting bodies is everything. The uproar that has followed the inclusion of van de Velde in one word says much about the meaning of transparency, accountability, and societal values.

  • Transparency: To have any plan drafting clear and open to public information.
  • Accountability: For their actions and decisions, an individual and organization must be accountable.
  • Societal Values: Policies and practices should be in conformity with the values and expectations of society; protect the vulnerable and ensure ethical conduct.

Way Forward: Recommendations and Good Practice

Strengthening Laws and Ethics

To avoid a repeat of such controversy, the legal and ethical standards for athletes and sports organizations have to be strengthened.

  • Clear Policies: Have clear policies and guidelines that go with how best the involvement of an athlete with
    criminal convictions can be contained without jeopardizing the career of that athlete.
  • Regular Reviews: Continuous review of policies to ensure they remain
    relevant and adequate as per the emerging needs.
  • Stakeholders Involvement: Have the contribution of all stakeholders including victims, legal experts, and ethicists in policies formulation and review.

This can, in turn, increase awareness among the general public about the issues pertaining to criminal conviction and rehabilitation matters, hence making society more knowledgeable and sensitive.

  • Sensitization Campaigns: Conduct public awareness campaigns to show the intricate issues that revolve around justice, rehabilitation, and reintegration.
  • School Interventions: Sensitize school-going children with education on the processes in the criminal justice system, moral values, and the subsequent reformation process.
  • Community Engagement: Engage community organizations and leaders to discuss the issues better and make subjects in community-level issues understandable.

Creating a Culture of Respect and Integrity in Sport

Creating a culture of respect and integrity in sport organizations holds the capacity to deter misconduct of any form among all athletes who can thus serve as role models and ambassadors.

  • Promoting Ethical Behavior: Encourage excellence in ethical standards and behavior of athletes for them to serve as the best ambassadors of their sport and country.
  • Support for Victims: Provide support mechanisms to all victims of wrongdoing and ensure that their voices are counted in decision-making processes.
  • Changing Harmful Norms: Address and challenge harmful norms and attitudes that tolerate misconduct and undermine sport’s integrity.


Steven Van de Velde being part of the Dutch Olympic team for the Paris Olympics has become so complex and controversial an issue as to evoke countrywide debates. Although there are some valid points on either side of the controversy, some large justice, rehabilitation, and sporting issues have been brought to light. It would be only proper that as we move forward, the rights and protection of victims are respected, the integrity of the sport is upheld, and decisions are arrived at by open and ethical ways. Only collectively can we achieve a society in which a balance strikes between justice and rehabilitation, preserving public trust and securing the integrity of sports.

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