The Batavieren race

Every year, the world’s biggest relay race finishes on the campus of University of Twente, marking the start of the biggest student party in the Benelux. Every student here – plus a lot of students from further afield! – knows about the Batavieren Race. But did you know that the finish line of the 175-kilometre race used to be on the other side of the country?

The Swedish SOLA Relay Race, which included participants from Nijmegen and Rotterdam, inspired the founders of the Dutch Batavieren Race. The Dutch participants in Sweden loved that experience so much that they decided to set up a Dutch version. The initial route of the Batavieren Race followed the route taken by the rafts of the ‘Batavieren’ (Batavians) in 50 AD along the Rhine from Nijmegen to Rotterdam. 1973 saw the organization of the inaugural event: a race over 175 kilometres, divided into 25 stages. But the people of Nijmegen didn’t like having the finish in Rotterdam: the busy traffic meant a lot of people couldn’t get into position to cheer them on, and the event organization left a lot to be desired. So they went looking for a new partner.

Enschede was not the only city to show an interest: with persuasive speeches about professional sports and its high standards, Leiden was also keen to host a modern recreation of the Olympic ideal. Enschede’s bid was ultimately for a broad-based, open event, and in the end Twente’s common-sense approach won over the delegation from Nijmegen: in 1974, the finish line of the second Batavieren Race was constructed on our campus.

The new set-up was a great success, and the Batavirus went viral (as it were). Whereas a total of 150 teams ran the race in 1974, by 1982 200 teams were taking part. In fact, there was so much interest that a lottery had to be held to decide who could join in. Already the biggest relay race in Europe, the Batavieren Race grew and grew until it became the biggest in the world.

Today, the Batavieren Race has routes of varying lengths, so no one can cite lack of fitness as an excuse not to join in. Of course, you get competitive endurance athletes wanting to finish in record time, but for the vast majority of the participants it’s all about having fun. So Enschede’s vision for the race has also achieved Leiden’s goal of an Olympic philosophy: it’s not the winning that matters, it’s the taking part! Fun is at the heart of the Batavieren Race: getting lost in the dark whilst looking for the next relay station, settling in at the beer tent while your teammates still have a race to run, moving the course markers so the other teams get lost... And – of course – at the end of it all there’s the huge Batafeest (Bataparty), and it’s not just for the runners: every single student at the University of Twente is invited to join the celebrations.

And not all the runners are students. In 1993 Mayor of Nijmegen Ed d’Hondt threw down the starting pistol after doing his duty so he could join in, and participants regularly include both former and current rectors. These days the rectors get a glass of champagne at the finish line – after all, they need an incentive to get them running! Former rector Harry van den Kroonenberg, a renowned endurance runner, took part more than ten times.

The winning team is presented with a wooden Swedish horse, in reference to the SOLA Relay Race that is still organized to this day.

The canon is constantly evolving and is open to debate and discussion. Is there an event, feature or key person you think should be included?

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