Education and sports fields that, although distinct, can relate in different ways. One of the ways for UFF to promote this link is through the Bolsa Atleta program, which offers a BRL400 scholarship for each selected student. The initiative, created in 2012, encourages university athletes to represent the institution in national sports competitions in the most diverse individual modalities, such as chess, swimming, table tennis, Hawaiian canoe, judo, taekwondo, and jiu-jitsu.

According to UFF’s Director of Academic Support, Márcia Pinto, the project aims not only to positively publicize the name of the university but also to support students in their sporting needs. “Another very important aspect related to the project is the positive impact in combating school dropout. Without this type of initiative, many students end up abandoning their academic trajectory. Since its creation, more than 100 university students have received financial support from the institution,” highlights.

The selection for the scholarship happens annually and is organized by the Office of Student Affairs. To register, you must deliver the documents required by the public call for further evaluation by the office. This year, 15 vacancies were made available. The enrollment selection process takes place based on the observation of their academic performance: it is necessary to keep the GPA above 6.0 and be doing the minimum number of mandatory subjects in their respective courses. In addition, another aspect evaluated is the number of championships that the student has participated in and how many still intend to compete.

“Reconciling academic life with sporting commitment is the responsibility of scholarship students; the university has no influence on students’ daily lives,” explains the director. She adds that the required return from participants is made through semiannual reports with information on the competitions and the performance obtained.

 

Together at the pools and at the university

Mariana Veloso, an Economics student at UFF, was part of the program in 2015 and 2018. The swimmer reported that she got to know the initiative as soon as she joined UFF, through a training partner who is also a student at the university. She highlighted the relevance that the scholarship had for its evolution in the sport. “The program was essential to maintain the quality of my training because with the financial assistance I was able to not only maintain them but also eat properly and have access to quality supplementation.”

Despite her experience in Rio’s swimming pools, the student explained that representing the university in competitions was a differential in her sports life. “During my career in the sport, I had the opportunity to swim in clubs like Flamengo, Botafogo, and Vasco. However, none of them aroused me as much emotional attachment as UFF. Moving to this institution was a great achievement in my life and I am proud to represent it in university sports.”

The Bolsa Atleta also served to fulfill an old desire of the undergraduate student in Economics: to reconcile the life of an athlete with academic routine. For Mariana, this has always been a distant dream; however, the chance of taking these two experiences in parallel changed her way of understanding the university. “Here in Brazil, opportunities of higher education for a high-performance athlete are rare. The Bolsa Atleta program gave me the chance to experience these two realities. UFF is no longer just a place for academic and professional development, but has also become a tool to encourage sport.”

The swimmer Leonardo Rodrigues Vairo, a student in the 6th period of Public and Social Security, received a scholarship in 2018, and this year he receives the scholarship again. The athlete, who is Mariana’s boyfriend, said that he previously had to quit the sport to focus on the College Entrance Exam. “In 2015, I stopped swimming to focus on my studies and managed to enroll at UFF. I’m from Niterói and I’ve always had that goal in my life. I joined the institution in the second semester of 2016 and thought about going back to professional swimming at that moment, but I ran into financial problems. In 2018, I returned to Flamengo thinking that at some point I would receive minimal help from the club to at least be able to maintain my activities, which did not happen. That was when Mari told me about the opening of the public call for Bolsa Atleta. Getting help was essential for me to continue swimming. I love to tell this story: I stopped swimming to get to UFF and then it was she [the university] who helped me to get back to the sport and stay in it.”

The couple’s relationship is directly linked to sport. Mariana and Leonardo met through swimming and since the time when they were not yet university students, they have participated in competitions together. Currently, the fellow has the role of coaching his girlfriend, who in turn also helps him in his training. “Last year, Mari competed for Vasco, but [she] couldn’t always train at the club’s headquarters due to work and classes; so we created the habit of planning specific training sessions for her and it worked very well. Now that I am without a club, she helps with my training and is the greatest discipline inspiration that I have in my routine.”

 

Sport is also inclusion

Geography student Vitor Penalva is a Paralympic table tennis athlete, and since 2018 he has received financial support from Bolsa Atleta. The university student stressed the importance that this incentive has in his sports career. “The scholarship was essential from the beginning, as I was able to invest in better quality materials. It also helped to improve my game, increase the amount of training and attendance at championships,” he guaranteed.

The athlete, who lives in Rio Bonito, said that one of the greatest difficulties of his routine is to correctly divide the hours dedicated to training and studies. However, his results show that this task has been well performed: currently Vitor is federated by Madureira Esporte Clube, and is ranked as the third-best Paralympic table tennis player in the state of Rio de Janeiro, and the fifth in the country. In total, he has already collected five medals representing UFF: one gold, two silver, and two bronze. All prizes were won in São Paulo, in the dispute for the University Paralympic Games.

In addition to financial support, the program represents something fundamental for the athlete: inclusion. He was the first student with a physical disability to gain space as a sports scholarship student, and this fact transformed his view of the institution. “With the opportunity to receive the scholarship, I realized that there were students with disabilities at UFF, and the institution sees us.”

Vitor highlighted the adverse conditions of the sport faced by Paralympic athletes in the country. According to him, the lack of accessibility in the championships’ venues is a huge obstacle for all Paralympians. “Many of the tournaments take place in the county area of the states, where most locations do not have the adequate infrastructure to receive participants with disabilities”.

The high fees charged for professional regularization with the federation are also an obstacle for athletes. “For each tournament that I participate, it is necessary to pay an amount to the Brazilian Table Tennis Confederation (CBTM), in addition to the annual membership fee – which is paid by all federated athletes – and each year it gets more expensive, making it difficult to stay in the sport. In addition, there are still high costs with flights, training material, food, and accommodation to compete in competitions in other states,” explained Vitor.

For the graduate, in addition to financial aid, the investment that UFF makes serves as a motivation in the face of obstacles experienced in its sports routines. “It is more of a stimulus, since investing in sports is an increasingly less common practice in Brazil,” concludes the athlete.