“Zwarte Piet” jeers at football players angers Dutch PM; Says it derails society

Two incidents of football supporters shouting racist remarks at players this weekend left Prime Minister Mark Rutte furious. In both cases black players were either called or linked to Zwarte Piet - a blackface character from the Netherlands' Sinterklaas celebration. "It makes you hopeless, doesn't it", Rutte said on Monday, RTL Nieuws reports. "This society cannot go further if we treat each other this way."

In a match between VV Emmen and JOS Watergraafsmeer in Emmen, a supporter in the stands shouted "Zwarte Piet" at a JOS player. Multiple players ran to the stands to try and find the supporter who shouted the racist remark, according to Dagblad van het Noorden. The referee halted the match until calm returned. 

VV Emmen apologized on Facebook. "Unfortunately, a visitor made a discriminatory statement towards players of our guests JOS Watergraafsmeer. We absolutely do not support this and asked that the visitor leave the sports park." The club also said that "appropriate measures" will be taken against the supporter. "Football Association Emmen is against discrimination and will never allow discrimination on its fields or in the teams."

And in a match between Arnhem's Eldenia and Utrecht's Sporting '70 a supporter shouted 'roetveegman' at one of the Utrecht players, the Gelderlander reports. With that the supporter was referring to so-called Chimney Piet, a Piet character with soot marks on his face instead of blackface makeup. The referee immediately halted the match and addressed the supporter, he said to the newspaper. The match was not restarted. 

After the match, the Eldenia coach and chairman went to the Sporting '70 dressing room to apologize. The Arnhem club said it would take measures and report the incident to football association KNVB.

The Prime Minister will meet with the KNVB on Thursday to discuss racism on and a long the fields and how to combat this problem. The fact that the government wants to discuss this with the football association does not mean the KNVB is to blame, Rutte stressed, according RTL. "Let's not start again now with calling each other Zwarte Piet. I don't want that at all", he said. 

KNVB told NL Times that the association is waiting for the match reports from the referees and clubs involved in the two incidents. Their standard procedure is to then defer to the relevant prosecution service offices to wait for their decision before deciding how to proceed. It can take up to six weeks before a decision on disciplinary action is made by the KNVB, but it varies per situation. 

The incidents of racism are extra painful because many clubs in the Netherlands stopped playing football for a minute during weekend matches to take a stance against racism. This followed an incident in a match between Dutch clubs FC Den Bosch and Excelsior last week Sunday. FC Den Bosch fans made jungle noises and sang Zwarte Piet songs each time that Excelsior player Ahmad Mendes Moreira had the ball. 

Last week the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, called on Rutte to join discussion about racism in football. "Hundreds of thousands of Dutch people felt the pain of Moreira this weekend", D66 parliamentarian Jan Paternotte said in parliament, urging the Prime Minister to play a more leading role in combating this persistent problem. 

Rutte stressed in parliament that he wants to keep the discussions around Zwarte Piet and racism in football separate. "Zwarte Piet is really a different discussion. That is a children's party, a social tradition that changes over time. The last thing I want is to lay down in law what Piet looks like", he said, according to Leeuwarder Courant.