Thursday 25 February 2021

Van Ark to consider allowing ‘corona safe’ competitions on natural ice

A rare experience. Photo: Depositphotos.com

Sports minister Tamara van Ark is to hold talks with the national skating federation KNSB about whether outdoor competitions can go ahead this week.

Skating published an open letter to the cabinet on Monday calling for coronavirus rules to be relaxed to allow the national championships to be held on natural ice to be held since 2013.

The lockdown restrictions prohibit sporting events, but Van Ark said she was considering an exception for skating. ‘The conditions is that skating competitions on natural ice meet the same conditions as other top-level sporting events that are permitted at the moment,’ said a spokesman.

In an open letter to the Dutch skating federation KNSB on Monday, marathon skating clubs urged administrators to make the rules more flexible.

‘Every self-respecting marathon skater knows that natural ice is a rule-breaker. If there is natural ice in the Netherlands we drop everything and make sure we’re ready, because otherwise it’s gone,’ they said.

Special rules have been drawn up to allow speed skating and short-track competitions to be held by moving the entire European calendar of events to Friesland, putting all the professional skaters in a ‘bubble’ and subjecting them to regular testing. The long-distance skaters say they want to create a similar set-up so they can compete safely.

‘We certainly don’t want to trivialise the problems with corona, but it should be possible to a fully corona-proof competition on natural ice,’ they wrote.

Politicians have also urged the government to find a way to facilitate canal skating. Rob Jetten, parliamentary group leader for D66, told BNR: ‘There is anxiety about the British mutation and the measures will probably have to be extended. But it helps if you also have things as a society to be glad about. Skating on natural ice is a kind of national treasure.’

Geert Wilders, leader of the nationalist right-wing party PVV, said the Elfstendentocht marathon race in Friesland ‘should go ahead in a responsible way’ if possible. But finance minister Wopke Hoekstra, a native Frisian, told late-night talk show Op1: ‘I’m struggling with the fact that I would absolutely love to do it, but I know we can’t.’

The Royal Association of the Eleven Frisian Cities, has insisted that there is no chance of holding the Elfstedentocht this winter after a 24-year absence, even if conditions allow. The iconic race only takes place when the ice along the entire 200km route is at least 8 centimetres thick and was last held in 1997.

Wiebe Wieling, chair of the association, told Omroep Fryslân: ‘In view of the current coronavirus situation there is no other point of view than the one we have held so far. That’s all I want to say about it.’

Explaining the decision in January, he said: ‘An Elfstedentocht is not a real Elfstedentocht without spectators or with only a small number of participants.’

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