Ginásios Experimentais Olímpicos (Experimental Olympic Gymnasia), an initiative of the city of Rio de Janeiro, are schools located on the fringes of the slums or favelas. Most of their students, who are aged 11 to 15, come from the favelas. Their daily routine includes a full programme of classes, including at least two hours of sports, and three meals a day. "Some of the kids serve themselves three helpings at breakfast," observed Herbert Wolff, Head of International Affairs at NOC*NSF, who was closely involved in the project from the outset: "You could see that this was fueled by real hunger. This affected me deeply."


In October 2009, after the IOC had assigned the 2016 Olympic Games to Rio de Janeiro, a Brazilian delegation visited Beijing to learn how the Chinese had tackled the organisation of the 2008 Games. During this trip, the delegation also learned about China’s combination of sports and education at primary schools. The Brazilians were not familiar with this concept, but from then on determined to introduce it in Rio to get young people involved in future Olympic and Paralympic Games. Three years later, in 2012, the first of the new ginásios opened in the district of Santa Teresa. By now, Rio has four of these schools, each one educating 350 to 400 students.


The curriculum, which is unique to Brazil, provides students with a combination of sports and education in which standards of conduct and values take pride of place. Many of the students come from Rio’s slums. "Most of them see no future, no prospect of improving their lives," says Wolff. "Sadly, they come to believe that they cannot change their lives, that everything will always stay the same. But the GEO schools change everything for them."

Teaching life skills is one of the main points of emphasis in the education programme, which is provided free of charge. Sport provides an opportunity to apply these skills. The students were selected on the basis of tests in arithmetic and language skills and on the basis of their passion – rather than pure talent – for sport. The GEO project does not focus on training future top athletes but on the personal development of the students, to improve their prospects of success in society.

NOC*NSF and the Dutch Consulate in Rio de Janeiro have been involved in the GEO project since 2012. In the first place because both parties believe in the powerful potential of combining sports and education. NOC*NSF is also acted on another principle: "We don’t want to just take something away, in the form of winning medals, but we want to give something too", as Herbert Wolff says. In concrete terms, NOC*NSF and its sponsors, the Partners in Sport, made it possible to send present and past top athletes to Rio every six months to give workshops and clinics.

The Dutch Consulate also participated; it helped to set up the partnership between NOC*NSF and the education secretariat in Rio de Janeiro. This led to a memorandum of understanding between NOC*NSF and the city. The Consulate has also repeatedly drawn attention to the GEO project via the media and among potential partners in both the Netherlands and Brazil.

Past and present Dutch top athletes

In May 2013, former top judoka Elisabeth Willeboordse was the first athlete to visit the GEO schools to provide a number of clinics and presentations. She was followed Ron Zwerver (volleyball), swimmers Marleen Veldhuis and Johan Kenkhuis, Paralympic athlete Marlou van Rhijn, wheelchair basketball player Inge Huitzing, table tennis player Trinko Keen, a delegation of swimmers including Marcel Wouda, Sharon van Rouwendaal, Ferry Weertman and Marcel Schouten, the Dutch korfball youth team and finally, in the spring of 2016, by swimmers Hinkelien Schreuder and Bastiaan Tamminga.

The Olympic athletes gave presentations about their personal development, their sporting dreams, their setbacks and the way they overcame those, the highs and lows of their career, and the meaning of Olympic values such as respect, friendship and the pursuit of excellence to their sporting careers. All visiting athletes also offered clinics in their branch of sport.

"With each visit a number of children was really inspired and tackled things differently afterwards.", according to Wolff. The students thought it fantastic that Dutch top athletes had taken the trouble to come all the way to Rio for them. Not just the clinics made an impression, the personal stories told by the top athletes, even more so! Every one of the athletes who participated have said afterwards that they recall the visit with feelings of great warmth.


From the outset in 2012, NOC*NSF had been clear that it would withdraw from the GEO project after the 2016 Olympic Games. Our aim was to provide inspiration and an initial galvanising force for others, who would take over the baton after the Games. Enthusiasm for the project has soared in the Netherlands over the past few years. For instance, Elisabeth Willeboordse’s foundation Judo2Inspire gave GEO students an opportunity to visit the Netherlands, and Trinko Keen collected material to boost the development of table tennis at the schools. Other initiatives are planned, and NOC*NSF will continue to work on strengthening the ties and partnership between the participating Dutch groups and the GEO schools.

Particpating Dutch athletes


Elisabeth Willeboordse – Olympic bronze medallist Beijing 2008, judo -68kg
Ron Zwerver – Olympic gold and silver medallist Barcelona 1992 and Atlanta 1996, volleyball


Marleen Veldhuis – Olympic gold, silver and bronze medallist Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012, swimming

Johan Kenkhuis – Olympic silver and bronze medallist Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004, swimming
Marlou van Rhijn – Paralympic gold and silver medallist London 2012 and Rio 2016, athletics


Inge Huitzing – Paralympic Games London 2012, wheelchair basketball
Trinko Keen – Olympic Games Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004, table tennis


Hinkelien Schreuder – Olympic gold and silver medallist Beijing 2008 and London 2012, swimming
Bastiaan Tamminga – Former Dutch record holder, swimming

GEO project - friendship, respect and excellence

GEO Project book (pdf)