Eleven years ago, after the disappointing Winter Games in Vancouver, IOC member Hein Verbruggen knew exactly what the Netherlands lacked in the search for Olympic success: money and mental toughness. said in telegraph. In addition, the government requested at least “half a billion checks” to approach competitors such as Australia, the United Kingdom and Italy. His advice: “Leave that top ten ambition.”
Now, 11 years later, the Netherlands is headed to the most successful Summer Olympics ever. After a rough start, TeamNL took 31 medals just before the weekend, which had already broken the old record of 25 medals from Sydney (2000). With nine gold medals, the Netherlands also appears to have taken the top ten.
coincidence? A sudden change of mindset is unlikely, and a half-billion government check hasn’t come. In twenty years, public spending on the best sports has doubled to about 50 million euros annually. This is relatively modest by international standards. However, the Dutch Olympic achievements – primarily the achievements of athletes – are also the result of the Dutch supreme sports policy.
Recognition of talents
Research has shown that athletic success is possible. According to Veerle de Bosscher, professor of sports management at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, about half of Olympic results depend on population size and national income. The other half is determined by factors that are much easier to influence, such as the quality of training centers, recognition and development of talent, financial support for top athletes during and after their careers, scientific support and the reach of the greatest talent in a field. They can train together.
Also important: Making choices, says Hans Westerbeek, professor of international sports business at Victoria University of Melbourne. It means that it is worth investing the entire available money in sports that offer a relatively high chance of medals. Several years ago, Westerbeek, along with Veerle de Bosscher (and others), conducted a comparative study of the best sports politics in fifteen countries, including the Netherlands, France, Japan, South Korea, and Australia. Only Australia (44 medals in Tokyo) scored a better break than the Netherlands.
Dutch success in Tokyo is partly due to Olympic ambitions still haunting the Netherlands ten years ago, with plans to bring the Olympics to the Netherlands in 2028, a century after ‘Amsterdam 1928’. The NOC-NSF Parachute Athletic was the driving force behind this, inspired by the Dutch successes of 2000. In Sydney, the Dutch team won 25 medals, thanks mainly to cyclist Leonten van Morsel and swimmers Inge de Bruyne and Peter van den Hoogenband. This resulted in a place in the top ten of the medal table for the first time. After Sydney, that became the official ambition of the NOC-NSF: Structurally, a place in the top ten of the best sporting nations in the world.
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But already in 2012, with the agreement of the Rutte II coalition, the 2028 Olympic plan was canceled due to the collapse of support among the population. It will become very costly in an economically uncertain time. Nevertheless, the Cabinet continued to support the ambition “to take Dutch sport to the Olympic level”.
Because of this, more funds were allocated to the Dutch Olympic sport. It paid off, albeit hesitant. The top ten has yet to be reached after Sydney. However, the Dutch Olympic team got closer and closer, placing 12 (Beijing 2008), 13 (London 2012) and 11 (Rio 2016). At the Winter Games, the Dutch national team has been in the top ten since Nagano 1998, thanks mainly to the large number of skating medals.
The Netherlands has invested in many areas. The best sports facilities have been introduced, such as the “Swimming Lab” in Eindhoven, where the swimmer can train with the latest equipment. For example, underwater cameras can be used to measure the exact angle at which a swimmer must dive into the water at first. The traditional stopwatch has been replaced by notebooks along the edge of the bathroom. National Athletic Center Papendale secured a state-of-the-art track and field athletics course for nearly €1 million, with top athletes Fimk Ball (bronze, 400m hurdles), Anouk Vetter (silver, hept) and Emma Ostrogel (bronze, hept) coaches, from Among other things.
Other investments went to coaches, physical and mental facilitators, scientific support, nutritionists, innovation programs, and talent development. The Netherlands returned from the policy of “honesty in sharing everything”, as Hans Westerbeek calls it. NOC-NSF reduced the number of major sports programs it invests in from 180 in 2012 to 68 in 2016. Only sports associations deemed capable of winning Olympic medals can count on solid funding — a principle that is regularly criticized.
Outgoing NOC-NSF Technical Director Moritz Hendricks, the architect of this policy, will see his right to Tokyo asserted. Not only because of the top ten ranking, but also because of the diversity of sports in which Holland has succeeded. The medals came from disciplines in which the Netherlands is traditionally good, such as swimming and rowing, but also from, for example, BMX, track cycling and boxing.
The question that remains is: why does the Netherlands want it so badly? The Ruti 1 government wrote in a letter to the House of Representatives in 2010 about our “feeling of national pride”. Furthermore, a premium sport can have a “positive image toward recreational sport.” Westerbeek says it hasn’t been proven that athletic success leads to more sports fans. And from a regular sample from 2016, “the notable pride and value that the Dutch population places on the best sport, […] to confiscate.” For reasons that are not clear by the way.
Therefore, Westerbeek, a sports fan, “satiated” the Olympics as a source of inspiration. You might even wonder if the government’s job is to fund top-tier sports, he says. “But if that’s the case, be upfront and clear about the goals: to entertain and to sell the Dutch brand internationally.”
A version of this article also appeared in NRC Handelsblad on August 7, 2021
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of August 7, 2021
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