Is the Olympic team too white? ‘Sport is not diverse. You can see that in the NL team’

A group photo of the entire Dutch Olympic team has not yet been made. Boolean, given aura. But anyone who imagines that picture will see a predominantly white delegation. Of the 292 athletes who qualified for the Tokyo Games, fewer than 20 are of non-Western immigrant background. Is the NL team too white though?

On June 1, 24.8 percent of the population had an immigrant background and 14.1 percent had a non-Western immigrant background, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. Translated to the Olympic delegation, the 41 athletes of non-Western immigrant background are a good reflection of the community.

This number is elusive. So there is an underrepresentation of certain groups. How did this happen? Is it difficult for them to turn talent into a major sports career, or are there other reasons?

Good at traditional Dutch sports

According to Reines Kremers, a researcher at the Moliere Institute, according to statistics, there is nothing wrong with the transition from a recreational sport to an elite sport. “Considering involvement in recreational sports, the formation of the NL team makes sense.”

His colleague Agnes Elling adds: “What are we so special about in the Olympics? These are traditional Dutch sports: horseback riding, sailing and hockey. The sport in which you usually see very few people with immigrant backgrounds.”

Research by the Moliere Institute shows that the choice of sports for minorities is not wide. Sports popular in the country of origin are also enjoyed here. In addition, sports that can be used to climb the social ladder have a certain attraction. Football and martial arts are the best examples of this. The socio-economic status of these groups also plays a role.

Ealing: “In football there is a lot of support for talent from clubs. Not in most other sports. Then a lot of parents are required. If you are not from a sports family, it is less obvious. Moreover, it comes with additional costs. Athletes come from a team NL is mainly from educated families.”

All white sports

Kramers: “If a sport has a diverse club life, you’ll also see that diversity in the best sports.” So it is not surprising, for example, that the only Dutch participant in weightlifting has non-Western roots and that the Antilles are well represented among athletes. “Conversely, you can ask yourself whether sports that have remained too white are seen as accessible to people of different backgrounds.”

One of these typical white Olympic sports is archery. In the context of diversity, director Arnoud Strijbis from Nederlandse Handboog Bond is pleased that for the first time in 25 years a Dutch woman has participated in the Games: Gabriela Schloessler-Bayardo. “Traditionally, we are a men’s sport. Our wife in Tokyo is Mexican, married to a Dutchman. This is a gift for several reasons. It is important for us that more and more girls start filming. It also brings a different experience. In general, our athletes have very low grades. The heat. It shows more mood. That’s good for the image of our sport.”

The shooting federation is one of 26 sports federations that signed the so-called NOC-NSF Diversity Charter last January. Diversity has been on the athletic agenda for some time, but it was primarily about the male to female ratio. According to Strigbis, the charter represents an important step toward expanding this interpretation.

His association faces a major challenge in practical translation of that signature. Shooting clubs are mainly located in small villages in the south of the Netherlands. This is why the coming weeks are important to us. During the Olympic Festival in The Hague, we will consciously offer clinics in the city, in all kinds of different neighborhoods.”

Talented professor Jaco van Sterkenburg, who specializes in ethnic diversity in sports, describes this initiative as great. What we see is that changes in this area do not happen by themselves. Once the sport is white, it often remains white. Since children with an immigrant background do not identify themselves with the practitioners, they feel less welcome or less drawn to them. To attract minorities, conscious intervention is needed.”

The importance of role models

In this regard, accessible sports such as cycling are an interesting example. Why did you stay white? “When I meet young people, they often mention costs.” The professor from Erasmus University Rotterdam himself believes that the lack of role models plays a major role. “They are essential to the allure of the sport.”

Kramers thinks the small percentage of Olympic athletes with non-Western immigrant backgrounds should be commented on. “Specifically sports with big teams – hockey, handball, women’s football – are not popular with minorities in recreational sports. These numbers leave a relatively big mark on the team.”

However, Elling finds the numbers interesting. “They teach us that we can be whiter than we think, even in sports. With reference to multicultural football, sport is often cited as an example of integration. While the sport does not seem to be diverse in breadth. You can see that in the NL team.”

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