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22 October 2003

University of Heidelberg: Cooperation for Top-Level Competitive Sport

Two years after the signing of the cooperation agreement: the situation has eased—Examples: student and vice world-champion Petra Dallmann; Fanny Rinne, European champion indoor hockey player

It is not easy combining serious competitive sport with life as a student. Not only do some disciplines require 30 hours of training a week, but contests and preparation camps frequently collide with seminars and examination dates. In such cases, students can only hope that their lecturers will take a lenient attitude and let them take exams at a later date or turn in their seminar work in the following term. The situation took a major turn for the better two years ago, with a cooperation agreement that made it easier to combine top-level sport with regular study.

"The point of the agreement was not to privilege these people," emphasises Prof. Dr. Klaus Roth, director of the Institute of Sport and Sport Science at the University of Heidelberg, "but to provide them with some kind of compensation for the immense strain they are exposed to by studying and competing at the same time." For this reason, the University of Heidelberg, the Teacher Training College, the Student Affairs Association, the Rhine-Neckar Olympic Base and various top-level sporting associations signed a cooperation agreement in July 2001. A ground-breaking constellation in Heidelberg.

The aim of the agreement was "to develop ways of supporting sportsmen and sportswomen in reconciling top-level sport with their studies and instituting measures taking due account of the specific requirements of sportsmen and sportswomen at the Rhine-Neckar Olympic Base and the sporting associations participating in the agreement." Off-putting as the wording of this extract of the agreement may sound, the new document gave the people involved a much better lobby. From then on, sport and regular study would be easier to harmonise.

So far, the agreement has lived up to its promises in real terms. "In cases of need the students can at least refer to the agreement," says Christoph Steinbach, managing director of the Heidelberg Olympic Base on the Neuenhimer Feld campus. "But unfortunately we still sometimes have to fight it out individually with lecturers and professors who see no reason to free people from exams or seminar attendance and sometimes are even totally unaware of the existence of the cooperation agreement. So there's still a lot of convincement work to be done." In fact, top-level sportspeople tend to be highly motivated in their studies as well. After all, apart from a few isolated exceptions, no one can earn a living with sport alone. So a decent education is not just useful but vital, particularly for the period subsequent to a successful sporting career.

To enhance cooperation with the individual Faculties, special Faculty mentors will in future be on hand to represent the interests of the sportsmen and sportswomen, while vice-Rector Prof. Dr. Jochen Tröger and Prof. Dr. Klaus Roth will continue to function as central figures in this connection. "What we need to do," they agree, "is to make the spirit of the agreement more widely known. Lip service alone is no good to these young people, the only thing that can really help is a degree of flexibility. After all, Heidelberg as a university city is one of the front runners in competitive sport today. And success like that doesn't come from nowhere."

One example of this success is Fanny Rinne, who studies sport and education science and was a member of the national hockey team that won the European championship in Leipzig. Then there's swimmer Petra Dallmann, who not only studies medicine but was also a member of the 4 x 100 metres relay team that was runner-up at the world championships this year.

"These two examples, and many more, are the reward for our efforts. But of course everyone in Heidelberg and the region is more than welcome to join us in our enthusiasm about the sporting successes we've notched up so far," says Christoph Steinbach. "Two years after the signing of the agreement we can certainly say that things have improved, not only because in the meantime 14 sports associations have put their names to it, but also because it has made Heidelberg a much more attractive university location for students with sporting ambitions. All we can do now is see how things shape up in the next few years." Christoph Steinbach is looking forward to the future developments. After all, the next Olympics in Athens are due for 2004. And a number of young people from Heidelberg are all set to make the journey.

Heiko P. Wacker

Please address any inquiries to
Prof. Dr. Klaus Roth
phone: 06221/544643, fax: 544346

Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

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