‘You can be difficult at times’

Mart Smeets and Kees Jansma wrote the book together Review, where they look back on their working life. Life dominated by sport and full of anecdotes. At the kitchen table in the Smeets house, the gray eminences of sports journalism muse on. ‘It was a childhood dream’

Roelf Jan Duin

Kees Jansma. “We’ve actually been through a lot, Mart.”

Mart Smeets (MS): “Kees, we have had an incredibly nice life. From Ard and Keessie to European and World Championships, Olympic Games, Eleven Cities Tours, we were there for it all. You and I spoke Holland at the ceremony in Amsterdam in ’88 after Orange became European champions. We have worked way too hard, we have failed our families, we have failed ourselves, but it was a childhood dream. Even as a boy I dreamed of completely different things.”

Kees Jansma (KJ): “I dreamed of this, I always wanted to be a sports reporter. And then it is a privilege that your passion becomes your work and that you can experience so many unforgettable moments. Ellen van Langen, Barcelona 1992…”

MS: “1:55.54.”

KJ: “The moment she crossed the finish line…”

MS: “Those eyes…”

KJ: “I brought her to you, to the studio at the top of the stadium. I remember exactly what I thought. This man… this woman… what a top woman. I really don’t idolize every athlete, but this was so special.”

MS: “I had that with Ard Schenk, who returned in 2015 after more than 50 years to the Norwegian ice rink at Alta, above the Arctic Circle. He skated a race against a three-year-old boy, Ard of course let him win, and then he did a lap of honor, the great civilized Ard Schenk, with that kid on his arm. They received thunderous applause, Ard is still a hero there. You can hear it in my voice, I’m full again.”

KJ: “While I’m the sentimental one of the two of us. I noticed it again when I wrote our book. We learned a lot about each other, but also about ourselves.”

MS: “We didn’t know each other very well, while we had dealt with each other since 1968, in all sorts of capacities. We turned out to have grown up side by side, in the fifties we were with our fathers at the same games in the Olympic stadium. Never knew about each other! We were good colleagues, but not friends. I think a friend is someone whose birthday you know. I didn’t know that about Kees, and he didn’t know about me.”

KJ: “I have always had great admiration for the presenter and journalist Mart Smeets. And when I became head of sport for NOS, I had to deal with this phenomenon.”

MS: “I think that’s a hard word, Kees.”

KJ: “I use it anyway.”

MS: “That’s your choice of words.”

KJ: “You were already very famous then.”

MS: “Known.”

KJ: “And you could be a nuisance at times.”

MS: “Joy. Is that a better word?”

KJ: “Of course. Good mood and bad mood, and you were both. And you were constantly on the move: then you went to Hennie Kuiper in Twente, or you were in Texas with Lance Armstrong.”

MS: “The great thing about Kees was that he as a chef Studio Sports created an atmosphere where people could talk to each other. On Friday afternoon, a bottle of wine, a case of beer was opened and we discussed what went well that week and what could be improved. That is the foundation of good editing.”

KJ: “I think that’s missed these days. Young journalists tell me they need it.”

MS: “We have had the privilege of working under greats like Bob Spaak, Aad van den Heuvel, Dick van Rijn, Dick met ck. Czars of Dutch journalism. Our message, the message of these two old men, to today’s generation is: on Friday, sit with your feet on the table and talk to each other. But there is no time for that anymore. Television has become a disposable product. I feel sorry for all the hard working boys and girls from ESPN, Ziggo Sport and Eurosport who run from one game to the next.”

KJ: “You can see that too.”

MS: “I see and hear almost everywhere.”

KJ: “But let’s be careful, people think we’ve become two nagging old farts, Mart.”

MS: “You have little influence on what people think of you Kees. You will always be seen as the football man when you have done so much more and I will forever be the man in the shirts. I was last contacted by The 1st, who made an item about Elfstedentocht in 1997. If I also wanted to say something about my famous Norwegian Dale jerseys. I’ve only had it since, what will it be, 2006? Yes, I would like to go against that.”

KJ: “People think you’re arrogant or unlikeable because you can be a little distant at times. Often enough I saw you on television and thought: Mart, don’t say that! But at the same time I was also jealous. I always want to like. If football supporters talk to me, I’ll talk to them, you move on. Then people think: he has a big ego.”

MS: “So be it. I know I’ve always kept my feet on the ground or my two wives would do it for me.”

KJ: “Everyone who appears on TV or on the radio has some form of vanity. And yet most people will judge you on all those wonderful TV moments. On it Evening scenewhere you were truly at your best.”

MS: “Mmmm.”

KJ: “People, especially other journalists, blamed me for becoming the press secretary of the Dutch national team in 2004. But in my eyes, I have always remained a journalist. Louis van Gaal always spoke of ‘your friends’ when he spoke to me about the press , I took that as a compliment. I consulted with him every Tuesday, and my first two items on the agenda were: The telegraph and with Football International to speak. After a few weeks, he said, “We’ll start with agenda item 3 today.” I thought he had to communicate, even with media that were not favorable to him. It was a constant point of contention between us. But I think we managed to keep the relationship with the press going.”

MS: “And I was accused of the Armstrong case. Remember: by people who don’t understand how the cycling world works. Or does it matter to me? I put on my oil jacket and it slips off.”

KJ: “We suspected, everyone had them.”

MS: “But if you don’t have real evidence, you can’t bring it. It’s that simple. There is also no journalist in the world who has been able to present evidence, it was the FBI who exposed him.
But I know why people were looking at me because I was the only one in the world who had made reasonably good videos with Armstrong since 1993. There was jealousy about this among other journalists. And do you know why we got along so well? I spoke the same language as him: American sports language. Armstrong recognized the basketball player that I am. I got on very well with him, but I also knew I was screwing up. But what could I prove?”

KJ: “At NOS, we didn’t have the budget to make investigative journalists available for that.”

MS: “Where there’s sports, there’s cheating. Call me a sport that doesn’t involve cheating. Hockey, soccer, weightlifting, even chess, the nice chess!”

KJ: “Look at the distribution of major tournaments: the Olympics or the World Cup.”

MS: “Look at those guys from the IOC or Fifa: smoother than you can imagine.”

KJ: “And that’s why we play in Qatar later. I agree with Amnesty International’s position: go there, but let us know what you think. You can feel that those in power are sensitive to it.”

MS: “But has any journalist ever gone back to Sochi to see what it’s like now?”

KJ: “Almost every city that has hosted the Olympics in the last forty years is still paying off their debt. It’s a monstrosity.”

MS: “It was.”

KJ: “But you know Mart, when I go to the stadium, for example to an FC Utrecht match, I still feel butterflies in my stomach. After all those years.”

MS: “And I’m back in front of the TV tonight at 4:00 watching World Series baseball. I like sports, is there anything wrong with that? Is it wrong that I can get wildly excited about an Olympic rowing final? That I wrote for all kinds of basketball magazines, I’ve done everything in sports journalism: writing, television, radio, podcasts, the whole package. And so it was so great to look back on that in this book with Kees, who I now call a friend, and whose birthday I now know.”

KJ: “Is Holland waiting for our stories? I have no idea. I doubt whether the young will rush to the bookshop en masse, but I can imagine that the present would like it.”

MS: “And if not, we’ll buy up the whole stock, Kees.”

Kees Jansma and Mart Smeets, Review. Inside, €22.99, 448 pages.

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