(ATR) It’s a familiar story: city pitches for a Games, IOC spots flaws in plans, city is cut from the race and a nation’s Olympic ambitions suffer a major setback.
Dutch NOC president Andre Bolhuis. (ATR)
When Rotterdam was knocked out of the 2018 Youth Olympics bidding contest last week, the decision was greeted with shock and dismay in the Netherlands. Late with financial guarantees to the IOC, the cash-strapped Dutch government had invested faith in the port city getting through to the next phase. But unlike bids from Buenos Aires, Medellin and Glasgow, there was no PR around Rotterdam, whose efforts were ultimately undone by financial risks in the eyes of the IOC.
It was a bitter pill to swallow. Having abandoned plans to support the Amsterdam 2028 Olympic bid plan due to economic issues and on the back of the Netherlands-Belgium failure in the FIFA World Cup bidding contest two years ago, the government and Dutch NOC must regroup quickly. A serious rethink of their bidding strategy for future mega-events is imperative.
Dutch NOC secretary general Gerard Dielessen last week admitted as much. He said some tough lessons would be learnt in the post-mortem on Rotterdam’s exit from the YOG race. Shifting blame onto the government for its lack of commitment, he said if Dutch politicians did not enthusiastically support sports bids “it will be hard to ever bring sporting events of such magnitude to the Netherlands”, adding that the 2010 World Cup bid was also undermined by the government not wishing “to take the ultimate responsibility that comes with such a large bid procedure”.
Prince Willem-Alexander watches equestrian at the London Olympics. (Getty Images)
The announcement that the country’s only IOC member, Prince Willem-Alexander, is to step down later this year when he becomes king is another significant loss for the Netherlands' Olympic ambitions.
No surprise that this gloomy picture isn’t shared by Dutch NOC president Andre Bolhuis. “The Dutch government has other problems to solve,” he tells Around the Rings
when asked why the Amsterdam 2028 scheme was put on hold.
The 2028 plans of the Olympisch Vuur (Olympic Fire) group have not been totally extinguished, he claims. “Amsterdam is still alive,” he says, “in the near future we will try again to go for 2028.”
Launched in 2008, the initiative aims to improve sports participation in the Netherlands by 2016, putting the country on track for an Olympic bid. Bolhuis says the idea is to change the mindset of Dutch people and show them “that sport is a good thing to do, good for society and prepare them to go for an Olympic Games”. Despite the financial crisis that has dented these ambitions, this vision remains.
Bolhuis denies that Dutch sport bidding is in crisis, pointing to world championships in rowing, field hockey and sailing taking place in the Netherlands over the coming years.
“There’s nothing wrong with Olympic sport in the Netherlands,” he adds. The Dutch secured 12th place in the London 2012 Olympics medal table and 10th in the Paralympics. The combined tally of 49 medals was a Dutch record.
The Utrecht European Youth Olympic Festival this summer will at least serve as a reminder of what the Netherlands is capable of in terms of organizing major events. European Olympic Committees president Pat Hickey says Utrecht 2013 is “one of the best planned and organized” of the summer EYOFs. “They are on track to deliver a fantastic Games.”
Netherlands enters the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics. (Getty Images)
After that, Sochi 2014 is on the radar and the Netherlands are seeking to better the 10th place in the medals table achieved at the Vancouver Games.
Rotterdam 2018 is gone – and likely will quickly be forgotten, a mis-step in the Netherlands’ Olympic ambitions. Clearly, the Dutch NOC’s loftier mission will take a backseat for a while to come.
“I am absolutely very positive,” Bolhuis says about the NOC’s future goals. “The NOC is going very well financially. All the members are very pleased with the way it goes. I am happy.”
Reported by Mark Bisson
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