The child rapist competing at the Olympics (2024)

The past has a way of catching up with criminals, particularly those whose victims are children. But in the case of Steven van de Velde, fate has had an odd way of showing it.

There was revulsion and fury last week when it was revealed that the beach volleyball star will compete for the Netherlands at the Olympic Games in Paris this month.

A talented athlete he may be, but he is also a convicted child rapist, jailed in March 2016 after pleading guilty at Aylesbury Crown Court to three counts of rape against a 12-year-old British girl he met via Facebook.

Van de Velde knew the girl’s age when he assaulted her and his name remains on the UK’s Sex Offender register.

When he was sentenced the judge said his hopes of representing his country were now ‘a shattered dream’.

Beach volleyball star and convicted child rapist Steven van de Velde will compete for the Netherlands at the Olympic Games in Paris

But in the eight years since his release from prison the 29-year-old’s life has undergone a stunning transformation.

Not only has van de Velde been welcomed back into the Dutch volleyball community and nurtured back onto an international pathway, but his personal life has also flourished.

In 2022, he married a former policewoman from Munster in Germany who is also a professional beach volleyball player. The couple have a two-year-old son.

How his victim has fared in the intervening years isn’t known, but when van de Velde was sentenced the court heard that since the incident she had been self-harming and had also attempted to take an overdose.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with criminals rebuilding their lives once they have served their time.

But the manner of van de Velde’s rehabilitation makes disturbing reading, especially in the context of a jaw-dropping interview he gave in his home country after his release in 2017, in which he denied being a paedophile, tried to argue that he had the young schoolgirl’s consent and said he wanted to ‘correct the nonsense that was written about me’ with ‘my version of the story’.

The NSPCC responded at the time that his ‘lack of remorse and self-pity is breathtaking’.

Serious questions are now being asked about how on earth a convicted child sex offender is being allowed to compete at the Olympics, whether the 6ft 6in blond star poses a threat to young female athletes and why no one has stepped in to block his selection?

It is an extraordinary situation which, as one British Olympic Committee source put it to me, is ‘impossible to imagine’ happening in the UK.

The BOC is said to be deeply concerned about van de Velde’s inclusion for Paris. Team GB has disqualifying rules around safeguarding issues and bringing the organisation into disrepute.

Van de Velde was a 19-year-old rising volleyball star in 2014 when he started chatting to the 12-year-old girl via Facebook after she sent him a friend request.

As prosecutor Sandra Beck told the court in 2016, over a period of time ‘he made her feel special’.

On August 2, 2014 he took an easyJet flight from Amsterdam to Luton airport, despite knowing how young the girl was. From there, he took a taxi to Milton Keynes and met up with his victim.

The girl told her family she was staying with a friend and snuck out to meet van de Velde. They went to Furzton Lake, a secluded beauty spot in the town, where they drank Baileys Irish Cream. Little more than six hours after meeting him, the victim performed oral sex on the athlete.

Later, after he failed to find a hotel room for them, they snuck past the briefly unmanned reception desk of a nearby Premier Inn and made a makeshift bed under a stairwell after finding a cardboard box and pillows. The following day, knowing her mother would be out shopping, the girl invited van de Velde to her house where he had sex with her, stopping when she said he was hurting her. She then performed oral sex on him again.

Before leaving for the airport, he advised the girl to get a morning after pill as they had not used contraception. Staff at a family planning clinic alerted her parents because of the girl’s extremely young age. Her parents then contacted the police.

By then, van de Velde, from Voorburg, had returned home and resumed his training.

Less than a year after his crime, he represented his country at the inaugural European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan in 2015, and was due to start training with the Dutch 2016 Olympic team.

But days after the Baku competition, a European warrant was issued for his arrest. He was extradited to the UK in January 2016 and pleaded guilty to three counts of raping a child.

In court, defence barrister Linda Strudwick said it had been a ‘spur of the moment decision’ to fly to London. Van de Velde, she said, was not a ‘predatory young man’.

van de Velde was jailed in March 2016 after pleading guilty at Aylesbury Crown Court to three counts of rape against a 12-year-old British girl

Before leaving for the airport, he advised the girl to get a morning after pill as they had not used contraception

In 2022 Van de Velde married a former policewoman from Germany, with whom he has a two-year-old son

Dressed in a grey Nike sweatshirt, the athlete himself appeared at his sentencing hearing via video link from prison in the UK, while his father, Professor Steef van de Velde — who at the time was Dean of the prestigious Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University — and his mother and sister sat in court in Aylesbury to support him.

‘This was a caring and loving relationship between two people, a girl who was nearly 13 and an older boy of 19, but one who was very young and more of an adolescent,’ argued Ms Strudwick. ‘The age gap is not quite so stark as it might have seemed.

‘Steven did not come to this country for the purpose of having sex. He made it plain that as far as he was concerned she was too young. Miss A said she wanted to lose her virginity to him.’ Ms Strudwick said her client was devastated by his actions and was a ‘steady’ young man, who did not fit the laddish stereotype. Judge Francis Sheridan, however, was unequivocal about the seriousness of the crime.

In the remarks he made while sentencing then 22-year-old van de Velde to four years in jail, he said: ‘The emotional harm that has been caused to this child is enormous.’

He also stated: ‘You were a hugely talented athlete but have a dark side.’

‘Prior to coming to this country you were training as a potential Olympian,’ he said. ‘Your hopes of representing your country now lie as a shattered dream.’

He jailed van de Velde for four years for each count of rape, to run concurrently, and placed him on the Sex Offenders Register indefinitely.

But van de Velde served less than a year in a UK prison before being repatriated to the Netherlands as part of the extradition agreement, where he spent a month in prison before being released at the beginning of 2017.

With staggering arrogance, he immediately gave that interview to Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad accompanied by a photoshoot. ‘I want to tell my side of the story,’ he said. ‘I was portrayed as a sex monster, as a paedophile. That I am not. I am really not.’

He said that ‘Miss A’ had contacted him first, clicking on a comment he left under a Facebook video and sending a friend request at a time when he was ‘deeply unhappy’ with the strict life he was living at a volleyball training centre.

‘That happened quite often with people from abroad; often they wanted tips from me about beach volleyball — how to jump higher, for example. So I didn’t find it strange that an English girl contacted me. She told me she was 16; that’s what she looked like.’

After a while, she confessed that she was only 12.

‘She asked me to keep in touch, which I put off for a while, but later I responded again. And within a short time we were chatting as often as when I still thought she was 16.’

He insisted that he ‘didn’t go to England with the intention of having sex with her’.

‘I wanted to escape from my life here, that crushing top sports life. I had to leave.’

He said that what he had done was ‘unfathomable’, that he had been ‘horribly stupid’ and ‘it literally makes me feel sick now’. ‘It’s entirely my fault, even though I had her consent. I should have known better. I told her the same thing before my arrest. It’s not about you. It’s about things I should have known better.’

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Van de Velde said that afterwards, the girl tried to protect him by telling different stories to her parents and then let him know when the police had been called.

‘Part of me couldn’t believe this was all real. I decided not to confide in anyone, because I didn’t know myself how it would end and if I would ever be prosecuted.

‘I tried to imagine what it would be like to go to jail, to never be able to play beach volleyball again. That’s impossible, believe me. Not doable.’

The NSPCC said at the time: ‘We can only imagine how distressed his victim must feel if she sees his comments.’

Soon after the interview, the Dutch Volleyball Federation, Nevobo, said it was open to having a conversation with van de Velde. A spokesman said that ‘if someone has served his sentence, he deserves a second chance’.

Indeed, in his native Netherlands, where his past is well-known and apparently tolerated, van de Velde has enjoyed an extraordinary comeback, one which would be unimaginable in the UK.

This might be explained by the fact that Dutch law relating to sex with minors is less stringent than its English equivalent.

Judges in Dutch courts are allowed to weigh up the circ*mstances of each case and take into account factors such as consent and the existence of a relationship.

On Wednesday, an article in Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad, which ran the 2017 interview with van de Velde, criticised ‘foreign media’ who had ‘raised a fuss’, adding that ‘the facts and nuances are important in this story’.

But when Judge Francis Sheridan sentenced van de Velde he gave a clear insight into why English law is as strict as it is.

‘She [the victim] instigated that activity as she thought that was what you do when you are “in love”,’ he explained. ‘That justifies why the law in England is as wise as it is in prohibiting a child from consenting.

‘A young, naive, foolish young child had formed the view that you loved her. In reality you only knew her on the internet, had never met her and were fully aware of the age difference.

‘You were the adult, she was the child and until you recognise that you will remain a danger to young girls.’

Amid a growing backlash on social media, domestic abuse campaigner David Challen wrote on X, formerly Twitter: ‘A tale as old as time: rapist with a sporting talent given a free pass so he can continue his professional career.’

A petition has also been launched on the website, calling on the International Olympic Committee to exclude known sexual offenders from participating in the Olympic Games. Because, staggeringly, the IOC does not appear to have the power to ban him. It says the responsibility lies with the Netherlands Olympic Committee (NOC). A spokesman said: ‘The nomination of individual team members, following qualifications on the field of play, is the sole responsibility of each respective National Olympic Committee.’

The Netherlands said this week that there was no reason to prevent Van de Velde from competing in Paris

The athlete's father, Steef van de Velde, pictured left, supported his son in court. At the time, he was the Dean of the prestigious Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University

The Netherlands said this week that there was no reason to prevent him from competing.

The petition asks the IOC to ‘imagine the kind of message it sends to the world — that a global platform that celebrates unity, equality and sport values allows a perpetrator of sexual abuse to represent their country. It questions the moral ground of such an event and deeply hurts those who have suffered at the hands of these criminals, especially the girl who survived this specific offender’s brutality’.

Former British Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies MBE, who was just 13 when she was selected to represent Great Britain at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, has also added her voice to the growing furore.

She said that she was ‘disappointed to see convicted child rapist Steven van de Velde included in the Dutch Olympic team’ but added she was ‘equally disappointed’ that a man who ‘raped a 12-year-old girl only served one year in a British prison for his crime’.

According to the NOC, van de Velde was able to return to volleyball in 2018 after ‘an intensive professionally supervised trajectory’.

It stated: ‘After his release, he sought and received professional counselling. He demonstrated to those around him — privately and professionally — self-insight and reflection.

‘Van de Velde now meets all the qualification requirements for the Olympic Games and is therefore part of the team.’

The decision to allow van de Velde to return to national beach volleyball in the Netherlands was dependent on certain conditions, however. He is not allowed, for example, to give training to underage girls.

Sources in the Netherlands say the sports star knew when deciding to compete in this summer’s Olympics that his disturbing past would come back to haunt him.

In a statement this week he said: ‘I cannot reverse what happened, my past cannot be erased. I bear the consequences. It was the biggest mistake of my life.’

His victim, who will now be 22 years old, would surely say the same.

The child rapist competing at the Olympics (2024)


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