In sharp contrast to the delays and confusion surrounding the International Olympic Committee’s handling of the Russian doping scandal, the Dutch Olympic Committee acted promptly and decisively in early August to expel one of its leading gymnasts from the rings competition in Rio. Gymnast Yuri van Gelder was sent home for violating team rules, including consuming alcohol.
According to official statements, van Gelder left the Olympic Village after completing his event and qualifying for the final. He did not return until early the next day and admitted to drinking alcohol, which violated the code of conduct set forth by the Dutch Olympic Committee.
Dutch officials said Van Gelder had “gravely violated” team rules. “It’s terrible for Yuri, but this kind of behavior is unacceptable,” Dutch team chef de mission Maurits Hendriks said in a statement. “In sports terms this is a disaster, but we had no other choice given the violation of our values,” he said.
The prompt action to expel van Gelder did not come as a surprise to observers familiar with the focus on integrity and integrity management in the Netherlands. After all there is a formal Dutch National Integrity Office! As described in the integrity office’s 2016 report titled Integrity Management in the Public Sector: The Dutch Approach, public integrity was placed on the national agenda dating back to the early 1990s and the evolution of the country’s emphasis on integrity, ethics, and integrity management has spanned three distinct phases.
During the initial phase (1990-2003), there were signs of attempts by criminal organizations to obtain key positions in the Dutch machinery of government through bribery and infiltration. This prompted the Ministry of Justice and the General Intelligence and Security Service to develop integrity policies as well as whistleblowing procedures and protections, including setting up a hotline where people could report integrity violations anonymously.
In the second phase (2003-2007), integrity policies intensified in response to a severe fraud and corruption scandal in the construction industry. In 2006 this led to an update of the Civil Servants Act. Among other things, it required government bodies to pursue integrity policies, to set up codes of conduct, and to introduce the oath of office. The Dutch National Integrity Office’s report adds that during the third phase (2007-present), there has been growing interest in integrity and this period has been marked by growing attention to reporting-systems for integrity violations. Regulations have been updated and improved to protect whistleblowers.
So, it was with this history and background of integrity and integrity management spanning nearly 25 years that Dutch Olympic officials acted promptly in Rio to affirm their commitment to their values. Consultants and academics are forever reminding us of the importance of culture in determining an organization’s values. We just witnessed a textbook example of how it becomes simpler to take the correct steps when an organization is clear about its core values.