DOETINCHEM – Doetinchemmer Raymond Heerenveen belonged to the Dutch sprint elite in 1975. While others at the time boycotted an athletics tournament in apartheid-torn South Africa, Heerenveen, now 74, , visited the country of Nelson Mandela. Make a statement and run fast. He recently returned to work in Port Elizabeth for a documentary on the NPO Other Times Sport programme. A meeting for the athlete with the message: ‘Black is beautiful.’
By Remko Alberink
The NPO Other Times Sport episode tells the story of athlete Raymond Heerenveen. A young man who lived in Curaçao until the age of 20 and who had never done athletics. It was only in Zwolle in the Netherlands, at the HTS, that his talent was discovered during a sports day in 1971, the next day he was a member of the av PEC. In the following years, he was sent to major tournaments for the Netherlands and he went on to win Dutch titles.
In 1975, the year the documentary is about, Heerenveen was invited to a two-week tournament in South Africa. “Other Dutch participants boycotted this tournament, but I wanted to go. I thought that if I went there, I had to say very clearly that I am against apartheid,” says Heerenveen. With his wife Elly, he discussed how he could best shape his protest. “We talked about it together at the kitchen table. My inspiration also came from two black athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who clenched their fists with a black glove on stage during the 1968 Mexico City Olympics to protest racial discrimination in the United States.
Heerenveen decided to equip his jacket and tracksuit with texts such as “Black is beautiful” and the biblical text “Let my people go”. “Additionally, after I arrived in South Africa, I also took photos with other white athletes as often as possible to show that black men and white women went very well together.”
The athlete gets a lot of attention, but the contrast in the athletics stadium is huge. “There was a luxury grandstand for the whites, they were completely silent when I did my warm-up. On the other side there was a rickety stand for the blacks, these people went absolutely crazy when I passed .
It was apartheid in 1975. “After my victory, I celebrated in the stadium, throwing my gold medal to the cheering crowd.”
In the evening, however, there is a knock on the door of his hotel room. Opposite him is Ad Paulen, a Dutch athletics boo and board member of the European Athletics Federation. Heerenveen: “At first I thought he was coming to congratulate me, but he came to warn me not to display such inflammatory behavior. Otherwise, he threatened to send me back to the Netherlands. I didn’t promise anything, but I admired him a lot. Then I told him I would think about it, knowing that I didn’t want to change anything anyway.
Heerenveen did not capitulate and in his next race he again wore the same tracksuit. “Paulen then came from the top of the stadium to the track. I replied that he understood that I had not come just to run.
The “incident” was widely reported in local newspapers. “He said I insulted him, but that wasn’t true. I just ignored him. It became clear to me that it was going to be dangerous, but that was two days before the trip home.
After the tournament, the Heerenveen couple will return to Curaçao. “I started working as an electrical engineer. I couldn’t train in Curaçao, there wasn’t even a real gravel athletics track.
The stay in Curaçao lasts two years. “I felt strange not doing athletics at the peak of my career. That’s why we moved back to the Netherlands in 1977 and came to live in Doetinchem. I first became a member of Ciko’66 in Arnhem and later from Argo here in Doetinchem.
South Africa is the peak of his career. “In 1976 I participated in the Montreal Olympics on behalf of Curaçao, but it didn’t make as much of an impression as those competitions in South Africa.”
The question arises as to how Other Times was put on the trail of the rebel Heerenveen. “Well, it’s not that hard, my daughter Marcella emailed them,” Heerenveen replies with a laugh. “She once heard about a piece of my past as an athlete and took an interest in it. We talked about it together and without my knowledge, she emailed the editorial staff a year ago After that took a long time, as there wasn’t a lot of footage to find, not unimportant for TV.” Until the idea came up at NOS to go back to Port Elizabeth and filming there, this happened recently in April. I went to South Africa with Marcella for five days.
It was a strange feeling. “South Africa is still struggling under the black government, whites and blacks agree,” says Heerenveen, who never seems to have regretted his action.
Special was a spontaneous meeting in Port Elizabeth with two former athletes who were also at the start in 1975. “One of them was a teacher, she had just faced apartheid at school. I was invited to give a lecture to his students a day later about my experiences at the time. I did and it was very impressive.
His protest in South Africa, however, ended years later, as in 1980 Heerenveen was set to travel on behalf of the Netherlands for the Moscow Olympics. “I was already wearing the suit, until they told me I couldn’t come. Because I had already participated in Montreal in 1976 on behalf of Curaçao, I couldn’t represent the Netherlands now. It was a vague rule, mainly aimed at former East German athletes, it seemed like someone didn’t want me to compete in Moscow.
Was Bobo Paulen behind all this? “The NOS has settled this, with letters to the IOC,” is Heerenveen’s response with a broad smile. A cliffhanger then. “Just watch the show for the answer.”
The ‘Raymond Heerenveen: Spike Protest’ episode of Other Times Sport can be seen on NPO 1 on Sunday June 11 at 10.45pm.
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