Please don’t bring the Olympics to Amsterdam

The Amsterdam stadium during the 1928 Olympics. Photo: Rijksmonumenten
The Amsterdam stadium during the 1928 Olympics. Photo: Rijksmonumenten
The Amsterdam stadium during the 1928 Olympics. Photo: Rijksmonumenten

The Olympics are tainted and leave countries in debt, so please don’t bring them to Amsterdam, writes cultural historian Thomas von der Dunk.

As the Dutch were bagging golds in Rio, the attention of the media became increasingly focused on the sporting performances themselves. The number of stories about the dubious context in which they were taking place dwindled with every medal. It was only to be expected: sports is politics but as soon as ‘our’ golden boys and girls mount the podium politics is swept under the carpet so as not to spoil the party.

Did you have any doubts when you were watching the Games? Did you think everything was clean and above board? What is the value of a performance where tenths of seconds can mean the difference between a gold medal and oblivion when we know that the doping virus is ravaging every sport there is?

The Volkskrant published a cartoon by Jos Collignon in 1993 which said it all: the 100m race for men was won by 1. Ephedrine, 2.Gonadotoprin and 3.Clenbuterol. The disqualification of the Russian team in 2016 shows nothing has changed since then. When are we witnessing a feat of physical excellence and when are we looking at a pharmaceutically enhanced performance? It’s almost impossible to know.


The Russian debacle taught us one thing: even the best controls are not watertight. With the state aiding and abetting these practices for political prestige this leads to massive cheating on a systematic scale.

But if we don’t know what we are looking at, the Olympics and similar sporting events lose all credibility.

To say that the IOC has done everything to make sure it won’t happen in the future would be an exaggeration to say the least. At Putin’s hissy fit at Russia’s threatened near-total ban the IOC passed the buck to the individual sports federations with predictable results.

The Paralympics are completely out of bounds for Russia. The TPC banned the entire Russian squad, a very courageous decision. Too afraid to deny the big prize to cheats it comes down like a ton of bricks on the Paralympics because, with all due respect to the Paralympians, the event is much less politically significant.


The IOC didn’t have the guts to confront Russia head on, although it had reason enough. But that the IOC puts other considerations before objectivity and fair play is also abundantly clear. The  procedure surrounding the choice of venue is riddled with corruption and nepotism, as it is at FIFA. The Winter Games of 2014 in a seaside resort? I rest my case.

Admittedly, the choice of venue is limited because most decent countries are less inclined to comply with the conditions of the IOC which can border on the absurd and which can’t be seen as separate from the increasingly megalomaniacal character of the event.

The creation of a state within a state with all sorts of special privileges at odds with the state of law, especially for the IOC board itself,  will be tolerated to a greater extent by autocratic regimes. Protests against the forced expropriation of homes to build Olympic stadiums are that much more easily dealt with, for instance.


Such countries will also be more prepared than others to take on the financial debt that goes with prestigious events like the Olympics and tax citizens accordingly. Don’t be fooled by the propaganda: the Olympics, far from bringing prosperity, are a huge and long-term financial burden. The taxpayer is coughing up the money for this particular party, as the Brazilians well know.

So please Dutch government don’t put up Amsterdam as a candidate for the Games. If you do we will call (anti-Olympics activist, DN) Saar Boerlage. She’s 84 now but she’ll pound some sense into the megalomaniacs again so they will end up at the bottom of the list, as they did in 1992.

This column was published earlier in the Volkskrant

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