Gosse van der Meer is a student and one of the top Dutch cyclo-cross competitors. But he has another passion as well: cartography. At the moment, however, his studies at Radboud University are in jeopardy. 'Despite being a professional athlete, I have to figure everything out on my own.'
Gosse van der Meer (21) bought his first cyclo-cross bicycle from Marktplaats at the age of seventeen. Six months later, he was participating in national competitions alongside seasoned veterans. This came as a surprise to everyone, including Van Der Meer. ‘Most people start when they’re this big’, he says, holding his hand a metre from the ground. One year later he was entering international competitions for talented riders aged 23 and younger.
‘If you prefer cycling, go ahead. But you won’t pass your exams’
Van der Meer, who is originally from Friesland, moved to Groesbeek two years ago. Surrounded by forests, he couldn’t have picked a better spot. Nevertheless, he prefers to train in Germany, where things are a bit quieter. He decided to move to Groesbeek, to the southeast of Nijmegen, to pursue his other passion: ‘map making’, he says. Van der Meer is studying Geography, Planning and Environment at Radboud University. As a student assistant, he helps first-year students with the Geographic Information Systems course. He talks about the course with the same enthusiasm he has for cycling.
There’s a good chance that Van der Meer won’t be a student in Nijmegen for long; he’s considering moving to Belgium once he has obtained his first-year diploma. ‘Life is a lot better there for students practising top-level sports’, he says. It would also save him a lot of travel time, as he currently competes with the Belgian Tarteletto Isorex team. If he continues to practice and develop his skills, he could earn a contract as a professional cyclist next year.
According to Van der Meer, Belgian universities take a very different approach to top-level athletes. ‘In Belgium, you’re considered a professional athlete if you finish in twentieth place in the town fair race. You get to take exams when it suits you and the programme is tailored to your training schedule.’
In the Netherlands, you have to rank among the very best in order to be considered a professional. And even then, you can’t count on any preferential treatment. ‘The entire programme is fixed. My professors regularly tell me: if you prefer cycling, go ahead. But you won’t pass your exams.’
On his own
This is typical of what Van der Meer considers to be the wrong approach to student athletes. ‘I have to figure everything out on my own. Just recently I had to go on Twitter to find out who the university’s professional sports coordinator is. Why wouldn’t this be something they tell me about, given my professional status?’
Incidentally, Van der Meer is not dissatisfied with everyone. ‘My student advisor does what she can and my GIS lecturer thinks the sport is super interesting. He’s a fan and tries to be as flexible as he can. But unfortunately I can’t say the same for everyone.’
Van der Meer refers to Radboud University’s professional sports policy as a grey area. ‘You’re entirely at the mercy of your lecturer. If you get stuck with someone who’s not very flexible, you’re out of luck.’
This despite the fact that Nijmegen has everything it takes to become the professional sports capital of the Netherlands for student athletes, according to Van der Meer. ‘All of the facilities are here, the location is great and the region is beautiful.’ The university also regularly delivers top-performing athletes, but fails to provide them with the kind of support they need. ‘I’d love to discuss this with the rector. Something really needs to be done about this.’