Dutch football captains lead boycott of TV show over racist remarks

By Daniel Boffey

The captains of the Dutch men’s, women’s and youth national football teams are boycotting a leading sports TV programme over the racist comments of a longstanding pundit, warning: “Enough is enough.”

The Liverpool centre-back Virgil van Dijk, and the Atlético Madrid goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal have led the way after years of the behaviour of Johan Derksen on the Veronica Inside show being explained away as straight-talking humour.

Advertisers have also threatened to join the players’ protest in response to a recent interjection from Derksen, 71, who had likened a man in the blackface makeup of the Zwarte Piet, or Black Pete Christmas character, to that of a well-known Dutch activist and Black Lives Matter protester.

In a joint statement, supported by other past and present footballers, the national team captains wrote: “This is no longer on the brink. This has nothing to do with humour any more. This is not the language of football. This is over the line. Not for the first time. Not for the second time. Time and time again. Enough is enough.”

Derksen, a former professional footballer, has survived a number of previous controversies including comparing a Surinamese-born politician, Sylvana Simons, to a monkey, for which he later apologised, and claiming that the standard of amateur football has been threatened by the increase of players of Moroccan heritage. “I will be dismissed as a racist but I really don’t give a damn,” he said at the time.

The Veronica Inside show has a bar-room style in which Derksen’s provocative interventions have been excused in the past as the price to be paid for freedom of expression.

But in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the recent acknowledgement by the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, of “systemic racism” in the Netherlands, Derksen’s employers are under unprecedented pressure to act.

The former Dutch international Edgar Davids said: “It is not the first time that racist things have been said and normally it has always been brushed aside. Now everyone has had enough.

“Nobody wants to be insulted, right? There was a time when people said, ‘Well, don’t be so upset’… We often say now: athletes have an exemplary role. But of course that also applies to the media. They are responsible for what they feed the public in terms of information.”

The pundit denies being racist and has refused to apologise over the latest row, insisting that “the Netherlands is in very bad shape when internationals and advertisers determine the content of programmes”.

Maiko Valentijn, the chief executive of the media agency MediaCom, which purchases airtime on behalf of advertisers in the Netherlands, described the situation in an interview with the newspaper Algemeen Dagblad as being at “breaking point”.

He said: “Our advertisers deserve an explanation on how to prevent their advertising from ending up in an environment of ‘content’ that is diametrically opposed to what these brands stand for.”

A spokesperson for the programme’s makers, Talpa Network, said: “The statements within Veronica Inside are for the account of the people at the table. Veronica is for freedom of expression and against deliberately hurting fellow people or people groups.”