We regularly conduct research into social sentiment in the Netherlands and Europe. One of the things that stand out is the sentiment towards the government. More and more, general opinion about government is exceptionally negative. Government is the cause of all significant problems; it's the evil genius behind all kinds of conspiracies; it's a defective implementing organization. Although this sentiment started to oil the obscure corners of social media, it is becoming more mainstream. An unexpected example of this came to us at the beginning of September, from the mouth of minister and party leader Sigrid Kaag, one of the most influential political leaders in The Netherlands. She is seen as a moderate, eloquent leader, leading discussions on, for instance, climate change and Europe. In a public speech earlier this month, she quoted a high-ranking civil servant who asked himself whether the government has accomplished anything significant in the past twenty years. "As much as he would like to be wrong, he couldn't think of anything. Me neither, no matter how long I thought about it," said Kaag.
Do you want to work for the tax authorities?
There is a chance that the basis of these devastating statements lies in a recent enormous scandal at the Dutch tax authorities. But: if we factual analyze these problems, in this case, the tax authorities are the executor of inferior legislation made by national politicians, to 'set an example. So who's to blame? We know for sure that indiscriminately criticizing an organization that cannot defend itself and is not allowed to decide for itself will automatically result in a deeply traumatized culture where no one wants to work anymore. Because honestly: would you like to work for the tax authorities? And there are more examples like this, like the lack of action on sustainability, the poor treatment of refugees, etcetera. What is the cause, and what is the effect?
The whole world praises our government. Now ourselves.
The statement that the government has not accomplished anything significant in the past twenty years is far more than shocking. One of the Dutch provinces, Limburg, had severe floods in recent weeks. That's true. Today's front page of the international edition of the New York Times featured the headline "To Avoid River Flooding, Go With the Flow, the Dutch Say." The essence of that cover story: during the recent flood disaster, not a single person was killed in the Netherlands, although the country had to process more water than all neighboring countries. Cities such as Venlo and Roermond have not been flooded. All because of excellent water management and the 'room for the river project. From the government. We are renowned worldwide for it. Now the Netherlands itself.
Our destination: the most sporty country in the world
There are, of course, many more examples. Dutch government contributes to happiness: the Netherlands is one of the happiest countries in the world. We have a healthcare, education, and pension system that all three are among the best in the world. Another example of a Great Achievement: in recent weeks, we have enjoyed fantastic sports achievements. Being a tiny country (The Netherlands has roughly the same number of people as the state of New York on a third of the size), we came seventh in the medal count of the Tokyo Olympics and fifth at the Paralympic Games. How bizarrely good is that? In addition to the medals, sport also provides wonderful stories, unites the country, increases physical and mental health, overcomes differences, encourages our perseverance, and makes us proud. Imagine what it takes for a country of this size to be in the world's top 10 best-performing sport counties. And it's not a coincidence: it's structural.
The government as a silent force
Of course, we owe those achievements to the athletes and their trainers. To the supporters and volunteers. To a sporting club culture that is in our genes. To the sports federations. To all the small and large sponsors. And fortunately, we are increasingly thinking about that. What gets almost no attention or credits is that Dutch sport has an incredibly good partner in government. For decades, local, regional, and national governments have been making an enormous contribution to perhaps the most beautiful sports climate in the world. Not only because of investing hundreds of millions per year in sports, but also create the local environment to make sports participation possible to as many people as possible.
So the next time someone asks, "Can you think of one example of a Great Accomplishment of the Dutch government in the past 20 years?", the answer is obvious: "that The Netherlands is among the top ten sports countries in the world." That's no coincidence; it's policy. VWS and all other officials who have been championing sports for decades: thank you. You are heroes. You make it possible for us to win with sports. Thanks to your support. Together, we can become the most sportsmanlike country in the world. Shall we?