Sport is an important part of life for many Dutch. There are thousands of sports clubs, with a total of six million members. There are also many people who play sports without being members of a club. The most popular sports are football, cycling and speed skating. Dutch athletes always participate in the Olympic Games, the Paralympic Games and the Deaflympic Games and are often successful. There is no country in the world that won more medals at international speed skating events than the Netherlands.
The national sport is football. The KNVB is the Royal Dutch National Football Association. With one million members, it is the largest sports association of the Netherlands. In the Netherlands, there are games on all throughout the weekend, during the playing season. Originally, associations playing on Saturdays were Protestant and associations playing on Sundays were Catholic.
The Dutch national team
The Dutch national team tends to be present at the football World Cup and made it to European Champion once (1988). As a result, and because of the successes of Ajax (Amsterdam), Dutch football and its supporters have a big reputation. Matches by the national team are often watched in bars or in big groups in people’s homes. Almost everybody will dress in orange, from wigs to big orange clogs.
The most famous Dutch football player is Hendrik Johannes Cruijff (El Salvador, El Flaco, The Oracle). He was chosen as best European football player of the twentieth century. He is regarded as one of the best football players of all time. He is still often quoted. Marco van Basten has also received worldwide praise and is considered the best Dutch forward of all time and one of the best in the world. During his international football career, Dennis Bergkamp also made history a couple of times, with his wonderful goals. Of course, in this context we also have to mention the Koeman brothers and the De Boer twins. Frank and Ronald de Boer are both working as coaches for Ajax. Erwin Koeman is national coach of Hungary and Ronald Koeman (Snowflake, The Cannon) is also a well known football coach, including, of Ajax. The best Dutch players are currently mainly active abroad, where they have been ‘bought’ by well known international clubs. Ruud van Nistelrooy and Clarence Seedorf are good examples.
Feyenoord - Ajax
Feyenoord (Rotterdam) and Ajax (Amsterdam) are arch rivals when it comes to Dutch football. Ajax is the club of ‘technique and arrogance’ and Rotterdam is the club of ‘hard work’. The third big team, PSV (Eindhoven), has often been the national champion, but is less important because they suffer from the ‘provincial syndrome’, excessive respect for the top teams Feyenoord and Ajax.
There are four big stadiums in the Netherlands:
Amsterdam ArenA, Ajax
- GelreDome Arnhem, Vitesse
- Stadion Feijenoord (De Kuip) Rotterdam, Feyenoord
- Philips Stadion Eindhoven, PSV
It is not surprising that the Dutch, who have been said to be born with two tyres instead of two legs, count cycling as one of their most popular sports.
The Dutch have always been well represented in the international tours (Giro d’italia, Tour de France). The following are some big names in the world of cycling: Joop Zoetemelk, Gerrie Knetemann, Jan Raas, Erik Breukink, Michael Boogerd and Thomas Dekker.
Apart from the Amstel Gold Race, the Ronde van het Groene Hart and Olympia’s Tour, there are few international events for professional riders in the Netherlands. The Netherlands has the distances, however, challenging mountains and valleys are absent.
Track cycling is also popular in the Netherlands; the Netherlands has four well known velodromes.
The Dutch skate at a recreational as well as professional level.
The Netherlands consists of 1/5 water and the Dutch know how to use it. At the first signs of good natural ice, the Dutch take to the ice in large numbers. There is no country in the world that won more medals at international speed skating events than the Netherlands.
The yearly recurring question ‘Will there be an Elfstedentocht this year?’ shows the passion for the sport of skating. The Frisian Elfstedentocht (Eleven Cities Tour; see also the press feature on Friesland) was held for the first time in 1909. It is an almost 200 km tour on natural ice, between eleven towns in Friesland. Since the event is held on natural ice, the Elfstedentocht can only go ahead if the quality of the ice is good enough. The ice has to be at least 15 cm thick. The most recent tour held was in 1997. That was the fifteenth time the winter was cold enough and the ice was thick enough.
These are some well known Dutch professional skaters: Ard Schenk, Rintje Ritsma, Falko Zandstra, Sven Kramer, Annamarie Thomas, Ireen Wüst, Mark Tuitert and Barbara de Loor.
Joan Haanappel and Sjoukje Dijkstra are big Dutch names in figure skating.
The Netherlands has approximately 20 rinks for long distance skating (indoor and semi-indoor), where official meets can be held. The Thialf Ice Arena in Heerenveen is the most important (indoor) ice rink of the Netherlands. Big international skating events are organised there. The atmosphere during these events is unequalled thank to the thousands of skating fans dressed in orange and the Oompah bands.