Pandemic May Cancel Popular Dutch Ice-Skating Event

16 February 2021

The Netherlands is currently experiencing a deep winter freeze. The extremely cold temperatures have led many Dutch people to take part in a favorite winter activity –- ice-skating on frozen canals and other waterways.

This popular outdoor activity is giving people a welcome break from life in a pandemic. However, the excitement has also created problems for officials trying to enforce social distancing rules.

Ice-skating is a national winter obsession in the Netherlands. The country is made up of many canals, rivers, and lakes. Skaters of all ages happily welcome the Arctic conditions that permit them to safely skate over these waterways.

In recent years, Dutch speed-skaters have won many major international races – including at the Olympic Games. These successes have only added to the national obsession.

The 11 Cities Tour is a popular long-distance ice-skating race. When the weather is cold enough, the event is held in the northern part of the country, in an area called Friesland.

However, the country continues to be under stay-at-home orders to control the spread of the new coronavirus. So, this year the famous race may not happen.

People ice skate during a cold snap across the country at the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam, Netherlands February 14, 2021. (REUTERS/Eva Plevier)
People ice skate during a cold snap across the country at the Prinsengracht in Amsterdam, Netherlands February 14, 2021. (REUTERS/Eva Plevier)

The website explains the history of the race. In 1890, a group of about a hundred men and women created a special challenge -- ice-skating along the frozen waterways to all Frisian cities in one day. And that is how a new ice-skating tradition began.

However, for the event to happen, the temperatures need to be low enough for long enough. Because of this, the 11 Cities Tour has only taken place 15 times since 1890.

The last time it happened was in 1997. An estimated two million people came to Friesland to watch thousands of skaters take part. Reporters came from all over the world to cover the event.

Last month, the group that organizes the 11 Cities Tour announced that "under the current coronavirus measures, it is not possible to organize" the popular national event.

On February 9, the chairman of the group poured more cold water on people's hopes. In other words, he explained why it was extremely unlikely that the event could be held this year.

Chairman Wiebe Wieling described the large event to national broadcaster NOS. "We're talking about a tour with 1 (to) 1.5 million spectators," about 25,000 skaters and thousands of volunteers. Half of the Netherlands, he said, will be on the road.

"Every right-thinking person," he added, "will realize that something like that is not possible" during the pandemic.

On February 8, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte commented on the issue. He said skating officials could consider permitting races on natural ice if the country's top 120 racers enter a coronavirus bubble. But he, too, said that producing an event with such a large number of people was unlikely to happen, even if it is outdoors.

Still, Rutte said Dutch people should enjoy the wintry conditions while they last.

"Enjoy this beautiful weather and the ice," Rutte said. "But do that within the COVID-19 rules."

The country's many canals are expected to soon be frozen solid and be safe enough for people to skate on. Officials in Amsterdam have closed locks and banned boats on parts of the city's ring of canals. This will give them a better chance of freezing over.

However, Amsterdam city officials also reminded skaters to follow social distancing rules and other coronavirus pandemic measures. They said pandemic rules for public places also need to be followed on the ice.

I'm Anna Matteo.

Peter Dejong and Mike Corder reported for the Associated Press from The Hague, Netherlands. Anna Matteo adapted the story for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.


Words in This Story

ice-skate (show video) – v. to slide or glide along on ice

canal – n. an artificial waterway for boats or for irrigation of land

excitement – n. a feeling of eager enthusiasm and interest

obsession – n. an activity that someone is very interested in or spends a lot of time doing

tour – n. a journey through the different parts of a country, region, etc.

challenge – n. a difficult task or problem : something that is hard to do

pour cold water on something to be not supportive or negative about a plan or suggestion

spectator – n. one who looks on or watches

lock (water management) – n. an enclosure (as in a canal) with gates at each end used in raising or lowering boats as they pass from level to level

coronavirus bubble – n. A "bubble" is an unofficial term used to describe the cluster of people outside your household with whom you feel comfortable spending time during the pandemic.