A Dutch commemoration of second world war resistance fighters has been marred by a row over an attempt to ban overweight people from taking part in a nationally televised guard of honour.
Organisers were accused of discrimination for acting on dozens of apparent complaints from viewers over the growing size of those taking part in the annual event in The Hague.
Volunteers with “too strong a stature” had been told they would not be able to take part directly in the main event at Waalsdorpervlakte, where the Nazis murdered 250 Dutch resistance fighters.
Wendy Broer, the secretary of the Erepeloton Waalsdorp association, organising the event, initially sought to defend the move after it was made public, claiming that bursting buttons on the participants uniforms “did not look good”, and distracted from the ceremony.
As the row developed, however, and with critics lining up to report the organisers for discrimination, the association’s chairman Vincent van Gaal was forced to appeal for calm. “We are the last to exclude people, and traditionally we want our guard of honour to be a reflection of society”, van Gaal said, as he promised to repeal the ban.
The two-minute silence on 4 May is regarded as the most importance remembrance event in the Netherlands. The 12-man guard of honour was once made up of former resistance fighters but they are now represented by relatives and volunteers, who are joined by 3,000 other people.
The decision to ban overweight volunteers emerged after minutes of one of the association’s meetings were leaked. “A number of members of the guard of honour are starting to get a substantial stature, at least for this function,” the minutes noted. “There are regularly comments and complaints about it. In order to prevent this, we will have to give people with too strong a stature a different task.”
One regular volunteer, Bas Jongeneel, subsequently revealed he had been moved to a catering role after six years centre-stage at the remembrance. His wife, Francisca Roeten, was among those who had responded angrily to the decision.
“You cannot discriminate in the Netherlands, but an association that commemorates our war heroes hides away people with a bigger belly, in their eyes,” she complained to broadcasters.
Jongeneel himself had been more sanguine. “What is a ‘too-strong stature’?” he asked. “I do not know, but in any case I can no longer stand in the guard of honour. I get another task. I can help in the catering. I just do not know if that’s a good idea for someone with a strong build.”
The Erepeloton Waalsdorp association board said it regretted the row and hoped the commotion would not have a negative impact on the event.