“There we go”, “a little closer to the net”, “yes, good ball”, “sooooo”. The voice of trainer Geert-Jan van Dijken blares over the park of tennis club ULTC Iduna. A foggy afternoon in Utrecht-East, the green Voorveldse Polder. He is standing in the middle of a padel court with a short racket in his hands. It is a sport somewhere between tennis and squash, played in a half-glass cage with a low net in the middle. Four young people stand around Van Dijken – the heat beats from their bodies into the cold air.
It looks like an ordinary sports workout, but it isn’t. The young people all need extra care. Van Dijken is co-founder of the On the Move Sportvrienden foundation, an organisation which ensures that youth with a ‘difficult background’ can play sports. The young people are registered by youth care, GPs, psychiatric institutions, juvenile detention centers – basically anyone who thinks that sport can help.
The organization gets about six hundred young people to play sports every year. This year there seem to be more – many young people are in isolation due to the Covid pandemic, have psychological problems, are overweight and other complaints.
Panting, Tom (18) comes off the job. Because of his youth care history, he does not want to use his last name NRC. He was registered some time ago by the neighborhood team, the point of contact in Utrecht for families where youth care is needed. As an intern, he now also provides training courses at the organization.
Tom has had many problems at school. “I went to a very white school and was the only boy of color myself. I was bullied a lot, also discriminated against.” He often became “very pissed off” and became more and more isolated. “At a certain point I stopped going to school and I hardly went outside anymore. That has actually been the case for a very long time. I was sent to special education. Then I was called a problem child. I have a stamp that will never go away. They don’t do stamps here on the track. Here I am just Tom.”
‘This is a tip’
The new cabinet expects a lot from sports associations. The Covid pandemic is causing fewer people to move. Vulnerable people, who already have a lower life expectancy, should be better guided, according to Rutte IV, to maintain their health and the idea is that sport can help with this. “A healthy life starts with the sports club. That is why we are helping sports associations to be ready to get Dutch people back to sports again,” the cabinet writes in the coalition agreement.
It was precisely because of those high expectations that there was – to put it mildly – considerable disappointment in the sports world when the coalition agreement became public. Twenty-five million euros has been set aside for ‘sports development’, including keeping the Thialf skating stadium open. Much less than was hoped by athletes, their unions and the more than 26,000 associations in the Netherlands.
Michael van Praag, chairman of government advisor the Dutch Sports Council, said in NRC that politicians “apparently don’t think sport is that important.” That Thialf gets one million euros and the rest of the sport 24 million is bad. According to Van Praag, it contributes to inequality of opportunity.
Rather than keep an ice-skating stadium open, Van Praag would ensure that “one of the thousands of children living below the poverty line” can participate in sports: “Sport should be accessible to everyone.”
The coalition agreement was received exactly the same at tennis association KNLTB (more than 600,000 members). Theo de Vaal, who also lobbies in The Hague on behalf of the KNLTB: “This does not really help if you really want to help associations to get more people to exercise. It’s actually a tip.”
The KNLTB has an extensive plan to make tennis – a sport that has grown during the pandemic – more widely available. If it is up to the association, people who are not members of associations should soon be able to use a tennis court. The KNLTB is working on a kind of Tinder app (Meet&Play), in which people can make a tennis appointment and then immediately book a job. “Tennis has traditionally had a somewhat elitist image, but we want to be there for everyone. Especially for young people in a difficult position,” says De Vaal. It is exactly what the cabinet wants to combat inequality of opportunity, and that is precisely why the tennis association hoped for additional financial resources.
The Netherlands is not doing well. More than half of the Dutch have started exercising less since the outbreak of corona, a recent study by sports umbrella organization NOC-NSF showed, while many studies clearly show that too little exercise leads to poorer health in the long term. Nearly fifty sports federations lost more than 2 percent of their members. KNVB football association saw that 20 percent fewer children registered with football associations.
“Sport is mentioned in the coalition agreement. It matters. We do get recognition and attention. But that must also materialize in amounts with which we can make a difference,” says De Vaal of the tennis association.
Still, he doesn’t want to be too negative. He sees that there is an extra 60 million euros for ‘prevention’ and that the amount for social service – voluntary work by young people – will be increased to 200 million euros. De Vaal: “We just have to look for other pots to get people to the sports field. That’s how it always goes in sports.”
Also read this report from the Utrecht problem district Kanaleneiland: How do you get poor children to exercise?
A rich association
Inge Voorhout is watching the training on the edge of the padel court in Utrecht-East. She founded On the Move together with Geert-Jan van Dijken. She worked in childcare for years. There she noticed that little attention was paid to exercise, while the problems, such as anorexia and self-mutilation, were sometimes very physical.
She wanted an organization that would get young people to play sports, in addition to treatment – their history plays as little role as possible on the sports field. Each young person is linked to a student or individual supervisor. They can kick boxing, football, boot camp, but there are also sports on offer that most young people have never done: tennis, disc golf, snowboarding. ‘No’ does not exist. The organization arranges transport and trainers and everything is free. Sometimes it is possible to get young people out of their isolation. Or they fight obesity or psychological or other physical problems. Vulnerability is a broad concept: it can concern poverty, criminal behavior, but also physical problems.
When he started working with the so-called problem youth, Geert-Jan van Dijken thought it would be complicated. How do you guide them? What can they handle? He prefers not to know too much about the care background of the young people he trains. “Then they are immediately back in a box. We want to get them out of that by letting them exercise.” The fact that he is non-stop positive on the track suits him, says Van Dijken, but also the target group: “They are not so often positively stimulated.”
Tennis club Iduna is indispensable for young people. The club makes jobs available free of charge and in the beginning also provided free trainers, now On the Move works with its own trainers. Paul Baltus, the chairman of ULTC Iduna, says that the club consciously chooses to support social projects. For example, the sports park also offers tennis for refugees and lonely elderly people.
“We are lucky that our club can also help. Our sports park is located in Utrecht-East, a neighborhood where people earn above average and have a high level of education. There are always a lot of volunteers. We know how to find the right jars of subsidies and if necessary, we have enough money to make the necessary adjustments ourselves,” says Baltus.
Inge Voorhout and Geert-Jan van Dijken were already members of Iduna before they started their foundation. The training they provide is paid for from all kinds of budgets. For social service, from healthcare budgets and sports funds. A hefty quest, and according to Voorhout you see a division in that regard. Because the people of On the Move and Iduna know how to bind volunteers and where to get subsidies. But that is not the case for many sports clubs. Especially in poorer neighborhoods there is often a lack of manpower and knowledge. In addition, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport expects the number of volunteers at sports clubs (now 9 percent of all Dutch people) to increase in the coming years. will drop.
Inge Voorhout: „The government expects a lot from associations. That they fight against discrimination, poverty, obesity, you name it. But most associations do not have the luxury of many volunteers.”
Volunteers often already have their hands full running the club. There is simply no time to look for money for social projects. Voorhout: “That’s why I think it’s a shame that relatively little money is being made available for sports development. Associations really want to fulfill their social role. But then they need a little help.”