There is plenty to be said for the strong Dutch team at the World Cup in South Africa. With players like Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder, they’re among the tournament’s most exciting teams. With a long history built around their “Total Football” style of play, they’re probably the most talented nation never to win a World Cup final. But considering the Dutch role in Apartheid, would the Dutch winning in South Africa be bittersweet?
Fresh off their victory over Uruguay, which punched their ticket to the final game in Johannesburg, the Dutch are one step closer to the ultimate prize. Naturally, with a number of South Africans of Dutch ancestry, this is very exciting. But it’s also a potentially-divisive turn of events that most people aren’t likely to talk about.
Considering the role of Dutch settlers in South Africa’s history, some people are contemplating how the success the Dutch team has enjoyed in South Africa might rub some South Africans the wrong way. Sure, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone in the Netherlands who feels any real kinship with Apartheid-era South Africa, but less than two decades since the end of Apartheid, not every wound has been healed entirely.
The World Cup is an entirely a-political event. But it’s also ignorant to assume that this history intertwining South Africa and Holland doesn’t matter. Israel and Germany enjoy strong diplomatic and economic relations, but the scars of the Holocaust exist nonetheless. At least enough that you probably won’t see too many Israelis cheering on the Germans in the World Cup. This piece of Dutch history and some of the Apartheid language tend to still tend to resurface in the political discourse every so often. Most recently with regard to a travel bill proposed last year in Curacao, a Dutch Caribbean island.
Regardless of how pertinent this history is to the World Cup discussion, it’s actually encouraging to see how much good the success of the Dutch team has done. The spirited Dutch fans have contributed greatly to the South African economy, so you could make the argument that Dutch success in the World Cup enhances the local economy. The incredible Dutch success in soccer has also contributed to a cultural diplomacy around the world. Nobody is going to proclaim that Dutch success in the World Cup is bad for South Africa. But it does bring up some pretty interesting arguments.