Until a few years ago, I used to ice skate in the winter – when it was cold enough. Making beautiful trips across the ice of frozen lakes, gliding amid the beautiful Dutch landscape. Ice skating has an enchanting, and also somewhat addictive effect. Even on TV. So, over the next few days I will be fascinated, watching the Olympic team perform in Sochi, Russia. Indeed, the Netherlands is one of the top countries in ice skating. Over and over again, great talents arise, both men and women.
For years, international sports events have been seen in the political context of the organising country. Whether it's the football World Cup in Argentina in the 70s, the Beijing Olympics a few years ago, or now Russia. And rightly so: you can’t just pretend nothing is wrong when the freedom of the press is at stake, and the opposition silenced—or worse. Where pop stars that criticise their head of state from the altar are sent straight to a Siberian labour camp for three years. Where a demonstrating Greenpeace crew are treated like pirates. Or where there are prosecutions or beatings, just for coming out as gay. Sometimes you wonder who does still fit in.
Ignoring the situation would, for me, give a bitter taste to such a fantastic event. Of course, athletes have trained their whole lives, and put everything else aside, to break records. And we can all take something from that. At the same time, the government leaders use the event to to profile their country in the very best way. In front of the eyes of the world. And that also gives an opportunity to the press and viewers to take a look at key issues: like human rights.
I sometimes hear that ‘sport and politics cannot be reconciled’. What nonsense. If sport can be reconciled with commerce, it can be reconciled with human rights. Fair play is a key issue in sports; the red card was invented to deal with bad behaviour. It all depends on what you want to see and where you want to take responsibility.
So, over the coming days, it is important that — not just political delegations — but also companies stand up for human rights and point out that this anti-gay legislation is untenable: if you have influence, you should use it. And obviously we all hope that athletes like Sanne van Kerkhof or Anastacia Bucsis win some gold medals. Let's see whether President Putin shakes them warmly by the hand at the ceremony.
(This blog also appeared - in Dutch - in the Newspaper Het Financieele Dagblad)