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NL Actief

A few days before Christmas 2021 the professional sports sector had to close its doors. With January coming up, a month when people aim to fulfil their New Year’s resolutions, as the only country in Europe the Netherlands went into another complete lockdown. A difficult moment for the sector and for society at large, even more so during the pandemic that strongly emphasized the importance of a healthy lifestyle.

Sport is essential

NL Actief, the trade association for professional sports- and exercise organisations, had to act. In the past two years, their members’ clubs had to close their doors for no less than 10 months already. This caused significant financial troubles for fitness entrepreneurs and harm to the well-being of millions of Dutch citizens. Sporting and exercising is essential for the physical, mental, and social well-being of people. It was time to make clear that a healthy immune system provides more resilience against diseases and ultimately lead to less pressure on healthcare.

Sports and exercise are an important solution to protect public and individual health. It had to be made clear that the reopening sport clubs would yield net health benefits. There was no time to lose. NL Actief asked Hague to maximise pressure on the Dutch cabinet to decide to reopen the sports sector.

Building reputation

Hague set the goal that the sports sector had to become top priority for relaxation of the lockdown measures. The past few years the sports sector had not been idle in the political-administrative arena. Since the covid crisis, Hague had also helped Basic-Fit, the largest fitness provider in the Netherlands and Europe, to bring the importance of sports to the attention of politicians and the government. Together with the constructive role of NL Actief, this had created goodwill and a more positive view of the fitness sector.

Members of Parliament had called upon the government several times to make sports possible again. On 21 December 2021, the House of Representatives unanimously adopted a crucial motion calling on the cabinet to investigate how sports can be classified as essential to society in lockdown. This was the moment we had to capitalize on.

(Social) media campaign

Hague supported NL Actief with a strategic approach with ingredients of Public Affairs, Corporate Communication, and online campaigning. The campaign aimed to increase external pressure on the cabinet and the advisory body Outbreak Management Team, propagating the message that sports contributes to a more vital country.

NL Actief started a petition to have sports recognized as an essential service (eventually it was signed more than 370.000 times). Hague created a social media campaign with professional athletes and sport experts to extend the petition reach on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram. We aimed to rally support for the petition and to bring public opinion to support reopening.

Athletes, scientists, and politicians publicly supported the sports sector. They took the responsibility to promote the importance of sports through regular and social media. Hague directed a tight media campaign to amplify this support via the written press, radio, television, and social media.

The glass fitness house

In addition to a virtual campaign, a more visible and appealing element was needed. Hague organised a manifestation on the central square in The Hague next to the Parliamentary buildings and Prime Minister’s office. A positive manifestation in which sport was presented as a solution to the health crisis and as an activity that the Netherlands longs for.

On January 11, three days before a press conference of the cabinet, NL Actief invited its members and other stakeholders within the sports sector, such as the Olympic committee NOC*NSF and the sports unions. From early in the morning, 
small groups of people were bootcamping, dancing, doing yoga and playing volleyball. In a house of glass every hour supporters cycled along to support the petition, including sport icons and politicians. Conny Helder, the freshly appointed Minister of Long-term Care and Sport, received the petition and had in her new role her first meeting with the broader sports sector. The energy and positive atmosphere were appealing to many national and local media present, and our message could not have landed any better.

Sports get a new meaning in The Hague

On January 14, Prime Minister Mark Rutte delivered the liberating message: the sports sector could open its doors again. This was not only great news for NL Actief and the sports clubs, but also for other sports associations. Millions of Dutch people were able to get moving again in the way they prefer.

The sports sector is still not acknowledged as essential sector: there still remains work to do. In particular, to encourage people to exercise. NL Actief continues to play its role in promoting a more active and healthy lifestyle. And Hague continues to help the fitness sector to retain the urgency on the political agenda so that the government will will work on stimulating policies and investments. Sports as a solution for major health and social challenges society keeps facing.

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