Winter Olympic: Dutch brickbats for Nagano bouquets

THE DUTCH are getting all worked up about the Winter Olympics. First, the nation's florists are fulminating about the floral displays at the medal ceremonies in Nagano, suspecting an Oriental plot to do down their industry. Then yesterday, the chairman of the Dutch Olympic Committee resigned, a week after reportedly calling Crown Prince Willem-Alexander a "Judas" and "saboteur" for joining the International Olympic Committee.

Dutch speed skaters, who dominated the awards podium again on Tuesday with an unprecedented medals sweep in the men's 10,000 metres, are not getting fitting floral tributes, flower executives grumble. The gold medallist Gianni Romme, silver medallist Bob de Jong and bronze winner Rintje Ritsma was given a small bunch of red, pink and yellow flowers bound with a pink ribbon.

Though their victories sparked wild celebrations across the Netherlands, the choice of flowers prompted some pouting in the land of the tulip.

"Those bouquets are poor. It's as simple as that," Warren de Vroe, of the International Flower Bulb Centre, said yesterday.

"I was very happy that they were there, all three of them, but it would have been an even nicer picture if they had had proper Dutch bouquets," De Vroe added.

De Vroe's organisation, which represents hundreds of Dutch flower growers and exporters, had offered to provide bouquets to all medallists for free. Japanese officials organising the Games politely refused.

"Probably to protect their own flower industry," De Vroe said with a sigh.

Dutch growers even developed a yellow and white "Nagano" tulip for the Games, but so far it has only been seen inside Holland House, a centre for Dutch athletes and media at the Winter Olympics.

The Dutch are not used to floral snubs; last year, their exports of cut flowers totalled 5.3 billion guilders (pounds 1.63bn).

The heart of the matter, De Vroe conceded, might be a clash of Western and Eastern tastes. "The problem is that what they are doing, for Japanese standards, is out of this world," he said. "But the rest of the world sees a nasty little bunch of flowers."

In the IOC spat, in a letter to members of the Dutch committee, Wouter Huibregtsen - who wanted an IOC posting himself - denied using pejorative terms to describe the sports-loving heir to the Dutch throne.

In public appearances at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, Willem- Alexander appears to have been untroubled by the remarks. He beamed on Tuesday as he hung gold, silver and bronze medals on Dutch speed skaters Gianni Romme, Bob de Jong and Rintje Ritsma for their medal sweep in the 10,000m men's race.

The respected Dutch daily De Volkskrant had quoted Huibregtsen last week as harshly criticising Willem-Alexander, who is also a member of the Dutch committee, during a telephone interview with one of its reporters.

In yesterday's letter to his colleagues, faxed to journalists by the Dutch Olympic Committee, Huibregtsen claimed that De Volkskrant "paraphrased my input and sometimes totally invented" comments.

Huibregtsen added that he was considering legal steps against the newspaper. The chief editor of De Volkskrant has said the newspaper stands by its report, though its ombudsman wrote in a commentary that "in an unguarded moment through the publication of a few words, the newspaper went too far."

Huibregtsen, who reportedly was incensed by Willem-Alexander's decision to accept an invitation to join the IOC, will be replaced by the Dutch Olympic Committee vice-chairman, Jan Loorbach, until a new chairman can be officially elected at a meeting on 12 May.