Analysis: top hockey players are allowed to stick their heads above ground level more often

The statement of Lidewij Welten on Instagram on Wednesday, who was disappointed that she was portrayed as an amateur athlete, was imitated en masse. Earlier this year, Terrance Pieters spoke extensively about racism in De Volkskrant. This promotion also received a lot of attention. It pays off for top hockey players to speak up, more than they have done so far. 

‘I doubted for a long time whether I wanted to share my statement with the world,’ Welten responded to hockey.nl about her statement on social media , stating that the government measures with two standards, so that the Hoofdklasse was immediately discontinued.  A measure she could not understand. “You stick your head above ground level,” said the international with two Olympic titles and world titles to her palmares. In 2015 she was voted best player in the world.

Her message found its way to mainstream media very quickly, including the NOS, RTL, Het Algemeen Dagblad and De Telegraaf reported about it. Welten was also on radio and TV.

To put one’s head above ground level in this case meant breaking a lance for hockey, and top hockey in particular. The message from the absolute dribble queen of Den Bosch and Orange was eagerly shared by her colleagues in Orange and the Dutch big league and ensured solidarity within hockey.

Rabo fan day 2019. Rise of international Lidewij Welten. Photo: Koen Suyk

It is precisely this mutual solidarity that has crumbled hard in the Dutch big league in recent weeks. The corona affair around Kampong caused discord in the hockey world in general and between the clubs in Tulp Hoofdclass Heren in particular. Kampong and the other associations increasingly faced each other and expressed strong criticism of each other . Even KNHB director Erik Gerritsen openly expressed his concern about the lack of solidarity in the big league clubs. “The position on the rankings and the points seem to go beyond the general interest.”

The same Gerritsen climbed the barricade for the seniors and the big league on Wednesday. Those words already echoed in Papendal and The Hague, but only after the star Lidewij Welten spoke out on Instagram did a wave of publicity follow. It showed once again that it pays for top hockey players, more than they think, to speak out. Minister Van Ark announced that the door for the resumption of the big league will remain closed for the time being, but the sport of hockey is on the map – thanks to Lidewij Welten.

A similar example was the role of Terrance Pieters in the racism debate. When the dark George Floyd died in the United States and worldwide attention for racism flared up, thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement, among others, the racism debate got off to a good start in the Netherlands.

International Pieters felt addressed, but was also afraid of the consequences of talking about his own unpleasant experiences with racism. He is a top hockey player, he wants to be judged on his hockey and not on his color. Pieters gave a wonderful interview in the Volkskrant , which was read breathlessly by not only the hockey world, but the entire sports world and beyond. Pieters ensured that the debate also got off to a good start in hockey and throughout the Netherlands. Massively and unanimously the hockey players spoke out against racism and a long veiled discussion was finally really conducted.

Fatima Moreira de Melo transcended the sport.

Hockey no longer lives in the time of personalities such as Jacques Brinkman and Floris Jan Bovelander or transcending sports heroes such as Fatima Moreira de Melo and Naomi van As. But this year Pieters and Welten are inspiring examples of how hockey players can transcend their sport, by showing who they are and what they stand for.

Today’s hockey players are often highly educated and speak well, but seem reluctant to take a stand or interfere in the public debate. This means that the sport is failing itself and it leaves opportunities to distinguish itself and to gain publicity. Hockey players are taken seriously by the outside world and the media. Perhaps because they do not express themselves quickly, but they always formulate carefully and are successful at European Championships, World Cups and the Olympic Games.

Putting your head above ground level is vulnerable to the hockey player, who is usually not used to doing it. That culture is not present in top hockey either. But it delivers a lot for the individual and for hockey. The sport desperately needs even more top hockey players who stand above ground level, which is what Terrance Pieters and Lidewij Welten have proven this year.


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