January 25, 2009

Finally, Something Akin to a Solution in the Belgian Crisis

It's been a while since we last posted any news from Belgium, where a group of national team members recently left the national training center because they did not want to work under the new head coach, controversial Frenchman Yves Kieffer. The last thing we heard was that 8 rebels were training at Wevelgem (Aagje Vanwalleghem's club) under 3 of their former coaches, and that when Yves Kieffer and his wife Marjorie Heuls finally showed up in Ghent on January 15, only a handful of girls were there to meet them.

Belgian national champion Aagje Vanwalleghem
(Photo: Sing Lo/Comaneci Salto)

Now, finally, more news about the situation has emerged, and from a very reliable source, Sporza.

It seems the rebels' insistence on getting former head coach Gerrit Beltman reinstated has finally paid off, to some extent. Minister of Sport Bert Anciaux is making funds available for the reinstatement of Beltman, who will guide national champion Aagje Vanwalleghem and the other rebels at the Wevelgem club. The girls themselves will have to pay the wages of the other coaches to be employed at the club (presumably the same coaches who were previously fired from the Ghent center for sticking with Beltman). The girls' parents are looking for private sponsors to help them carry the financial burden of employing the coaches. Meanwhile, 6 other national team members will remain at the national training center in Ghent, where they will train under former French head coach Yves Kieffer and his wife Marjorie Heuls. One of the 6 girls remaining in Ghent is Gaëlle Mys, who represented Belgium in Beijing.

Els De Nil, the official representative of the parents whose daughters have moved to Wevelgem, explained the situation to Sporza.

"Two weeks ago, we, along with Aagje and Beltman, spoke to Minister Anciaux. The next day he spoke to the other party," said De Nil. "The Minister established that the 2 parties were irreconcilable, as there is a serious crisis of trust. So elite sports manager Ivo Van Aken proposed this setup, and on Sunday we agreed to it."

De Nil continued, "It was a difficult decision to make, as our children were building up social lives in Ghent. But there was too much injustice in the situation. Basically, what is happening at the moment constitutes a rift in the Flemish Gymnastics Federation. When we had our meeting with Van Aken, a member of the Federation admitted that they had made mistakes, but insisted that management would never step down. Our children have become the victims of a power struggle. But they are prepared to take the risks associated with the move to Wevelgem, to Aagje's club. The club is willing to help us out (financially). We are now looking for host families for the girls."

A happy ending for all parties involved? That remains to be seen. The Ministry of Sport will only pay Gerrit Beltman's wages; the other coaches will have to get their wages elsewhere. It is to be hoped that the 8 rebel girls will find sponsors to help them carry the financial burden. At a time when much more famous athletes than them are losing their sponsorship deals, that may be a tall order.


  1. I hope everything goes well to the gymnasts from Belgium. I always cheer for Aagje Vanwalleghem, as she was born in Brazil (and I'm Brazilian).

    Congratulations for the fantastic blog!

  2. I'm glad they came to some kind of solution but it seems like there could be some conflict when choosing assignments for athletes and when girls from each group have to compete together as a team internationally. I hope things work out for them!

  3. Thanks, Mr. F. :)

    We hope things work out for the Belgian team as well. It sounds like a complicated and potentially volatile situation.

    Mariska, we accidentally rejected your comment and can't undo it. Sorry about that. In response to your comment that the new solution is a pity for the Bosan TON girls as Gerrit Beltman had just begun working there, we'll just point out that the TON girls were doing quite well before Beltman arrived at the club. We expect they'll continue to do well without him. We are somewhat sorry for Reina though. Any news on whether she'll follow Gerrit (and Marja, we presume) to Wevelgem?

  4. It's ok!
    The TON girls Gerrit is/was coaching now, are the upcoming youth and junior gymnasts of the club. Their previous coach left to coach abroad for some time, so there was a chance for Beltman after leaving Belgium.
    I'm sure they'll find a solution, i just wondered if he'll start coaching fulltime in Belgium again.

  5. I follow it a bit at http://www.gymnasticsforum.be (Nieuwe headcoach AGD!) It's the Belgium gymnasticsforum so its in Dutch.

    grtzz, Mike