Rowers and sailors unhappy about subsidy. Will sports foundation Mesa Cosa give in?

Photo: DUB

“So stiff”. That's how Triton treasurer Philippa Steensma qualified the conversations held between board association Spin, sailing association Histos, rowing associations Orca and Triton, and sports foundation Mesa Cosa. They discussed a new subsidy arrangement.

The four associations (also known by the acronym SHOT) are of the opinion that the current arrangement, which started in 2019, is to their disadvantage. After three years, they sat together to evaluate the subsidy agreements.

Sports pass is a matter of concern
Mesa Cosa's subsidy rules have caused tension for years within the Shot associations, who together have about three thousand members. One of the main matters of concern is that Mesa Cosa stipulates that all members of the associations receiving subsidies must purchase an Olympos card.

The idea behind the mandate is to have the associations use the sports centre. However, the Shot associations have their own accommodations with sports facilities, rendering Olympos redundant.

In 2015, the four associations broke off ties with Mesa Cosa because they disagreed with the idea of forcing members to buy an Olympos pass when they would probably not use it.

However, four years later, they reestablished their ties after concluding that, as part of Mesa Cosa, they could have more bargaining power when applying for subsidies and help from the Municipality of Utrecht.

At the time, the associations agreed on a subsidy arrangement in which only first-year members would be obliged to acquire an Olympos pass. The 140 euros that these students must pay for the pass would be given back by Mesa Cosa in the form of a subsidy.

That means the associations don't earn anything from this arrangement. After all, the associations have chosen to cover the costs of the Olympos pass for its members, without increasing the price of the membership.

According to the Triton treasurer, the associations are adamant that members should not be charged more, as that would compromise the accessibility of water sports, which are already considered expensive, even more.

Extra subsidy funds should then come from older students who acquire an Olympos pass willingly. In that case, the associations get 25 euro per member, as agreed with Mesa Cosa.

An internal evaluation reveals that the system doesn’t work, says Philippa Steensma. “Only a third of first-year members collected the Olympos pass, which shows there is simply no need for it. Moreover, only 4 per cent of seniors have purchased the card, leaving our income very limited.”

Steensma concludes that the Shot associations are primarily subsidising Mesa Cosa instead of the other way around. According to them, the sports foundation receives income from 800 first-year water sports enthusiasts without them using the facilities at Olympos. “We think that’s unfair.”

New proposal
The associations have now submitted their own proposal to Mesa Cosa. They ask roughly the same subsidy amount that other student sports associations receive per member. According to them, Mesa Cosa would even benefit from this. At present, the sports foundation provides almost 117,000 euros in subsidy, whereas according to the associations' proposal, it would receive about 92,000 euros.

However, these calculations do not include the income that Mesa Cosa now has from selling 800 sports passes at 140 euros to first-year Shot members. The foundation will miss out on that money in the new proposal.

According to Steensma, those passes could be sold to students who actually use Olympos' facilities. But the question is whether Mesa Cosa agrees with the measure by which the income of new cardholders who are not Shot-members will go to those associations.

University council party Partij voor de Utrechtse Student (PvdUS) has come to their aid. The party supports the proposal drawn up by the Shot associations and urges the Executive Board to speed up the negotiations. The memo will be discussed next month in the university council.

In conversation
Olympos Director Cees Verhoef, who is in talks with the students on behalf of Mesa Cosa, regrets that the Shot associations are taking these steps. Verhoef refrains from commenting on the content of the discussions held with the water sports associations and the proposals on the table. According to him, the two parties are still negotiating. Verhoef is hopeful that a solution will be found this spring.

The director acknowledges that the current subsidy system has not worked for the associations as foreseen. “Partly because of Covid, fewer Shot members used the sports card than we had calculated. So now we’ll have to find a way to deal with it.”

According to Steensma, the associations are not currently thinking of resigning from Mesa Cosa. “We see the importance of a system where we collaborate with all student sports organisations. We would like to reach a good deal within that system.”