Pride and patriotism/passion and poison.

There is something about a sporting event that tends to have a magnetic ability to pull a nation together. I have grown up with the events of South Africa’s “other religion”, namely rugby, being the galvanizing element to national pride and unity. None more so iconic than the post apartheid Rugby World Cup, presided over by the Rainbow Nation’s new president elect, Nelson Mandela, kitted out in the captain’s jersey. The result of that 1995 event was indeed glorious for the newly flagged nation.

Dutch patriotism, at its very ORANGE finest has been on display for the past few days, set to reach its zenith in the next 24 hours…

No, it is not the king’s birthday, celebrated on Koninigsdag, instead it is another sort of king who is being worshipped, this one at the altar of the pitts of the petrol heads: Max Verstappen and his Red Bull formula one racing car.

The frenzy has built steadily ever since The Netherlands was given the green light to host a Grand Prix race on their newly upgraded Zandvoort race track, back in May 2019, the first time in more than 30 years.

Due to the global viral crisis that put lives on hold, sadly some permanently, along with functions and events, the time has finally arrived for the dream to become a reality.  Most of these lockdown measures crippled small businesses and forced many to reinvent themselves in order to stay afloat, more so than ever, those in the business of these mega events. Now they have their moment to shine, in this instance, on a slick new track, engulfed in fumes, screaming engines and squealing rubber – paradise for those who chose this as their “poison of passion”!

Formula one fever has certainly arrived in our neck of the woods! Roads have been closed, notices of which I have passed en-route to my work, for the past month but reality struck yesterday when I had to borrow the fancy e-bike of my dear friend in order to get to my client on time. Not only are the roads closed to vehicles but, I also discovered that the railway crossing is also closed to both bicycles and pedestrians. The reason for this closure is that they have had to increase thier trains to Zandvoort to 12 every hour. Thus, I had to find the viaduct and make a considerable detour through the suburbs of Bloemendaal in order to reach my morning client.

The vehicle-quiet roads mean that the bicycles and scooters have full rein and the road was full of groups on hired bikes, chatting and laughing excitedly as they pedalled along the tree lined route, all clad in some form of orange garb. On my return ride, I bumped into a number of visitors frantically consulting route maps and asking for directions to the track, all boasting orange kit emblazoned with Red Bull supporters logos – clearly more Max fans!

We’ve been spoiled for choice this year, with the number of major sporting events taking place, some only virtually, but going ahead all the same. The Olympic Games being the most notable. This sporting spectacle followed closely on the heels of the EuroHockey Championships, the Euro football, the annual French Open and Wimbledon tennis championships,the Tour de France cycle race, to name the more renowned ones, by which time, I had begun to wonder what on earth would occupy my television viewing time? More recently there have been some incredible displays of courage, bravery and prowess in the Paralympic Games, sadly without the same fanfare as the previous event. All in all, this year has already been a feast for those of us sports supporters. This weekend is the jewel in the already highly encrusted crown of Dutch sporting events and achievements and has the makings of another success.

This spectacle made me think of what we tend to gravitate towards in terms of idolizing and worshipping. It is easy to be swept up in the fan based frenzy of star-struck followers of the latest sporting legend. I believe that these “legends” are mostly healthy examples of healthy lifestyles for the younger generation to follow. However, one needs little reminder that they are only human, after all, and that they too have feet of clay and are susceptible to the fallibility of human temptation and waywardness.

We all place our faith in different things, some in lucky charms, especially ahead of major sporting events, in the quest for national pride and glory. I choose to place my faith in the Creator of all, in whom I have the deepest faith that, no matter the end result, the reason unknown to me, will always be in my best interest, thankfully.

By yesterday evening, those same excited and fresh-looking fans were looking a lot less fresh, a little more sunburned, their orange supporters gear a lot crumpled and their excitement somewhat muted after a day in the “Indian Summer” sun, deafened by the screeching and screaming engines being put through the practice laps, ahead of the big race day tomorrow. The conversations were still as lively, though perhaps fueled by the consumption of beer, putting some into overdrive with their enthusiasm for recall of every single lap…!

So to those devoted fans of motor racing and in particular, to the Dutch fans of the nation’s “wonder boy”, Max, may your thumbs be held tight, your fingers crossed, your best lucky orange shirt or cap be donned and may your dreams of a Dutch Champion F1 racing driver be realised, right here on the home track at Zandvoort!

From next week, the speed limit in urban zones will return to the regulation 30 km/h, from the current 33 km/h, in honour of Max racing number. So too the special bus line 33 from Haarlem station to the stop on the boulevard of Bloemendaal aan Zee will go back to its usual number and route and life will return to the way that it has been… until the next national event: HUP HOLLAND!

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