Olympics-Speed skating-No band aid for Dutch musicians

Reuters

By Patrick Johnston

SOCHI, Russia, Feb 10 (Reuters) - The Dutch speed skating team are winning, the fans are singing and the band is ... wait. Where is the band?

Kleintje Pils has become a regular feature at Winter Olympics, the Dutch musicians entertaining fans at speed skating events around the world for almost 30 years.

But while Dutch skaters have been dominating in Sochi, the band has yet to strike up.

"We arrive on Friday, we have our normal jobs to do, we can only do 10-12 days for economic reasons," founder Ruud Bakker told Reuters via telephone, adding that the band is being sorely missed at Russia's first winter Games.

"We have tweets, phone calls, messages from all over the world saying: 'we miss you, its boring'. From Australia, America, Holland, fans everywhere."

In their absence, Sven Kramer and Irene Wust won the opening two events to move the Netherlands level on 29 Winter Olympic speed skating golds with America as joint record holders.

Bakker said he watched them win on television.

"It feels so painful we can't be in Sochi already."

The 55-year-old, who works in real estate, said Russian organisers had wanted the band to be at the Adler Arena for the entire 15-day speed skating competition.

Asked if the band was willing to accept funding to come for longer, Bakker offered a swift 'no'.

"We don't want someone saying what we do," he said.

"We do it for a hobby, not on commercial purposes."

In their place, Sochi organisers have arranged for a similar Russian band, supported by cheerleaders, to play pop songs during 30-minute intervals and Bakker said a collaboration was possible with the Russians.

Bakker's band, "a party, carnival" group, started their association with the sport in 1986 when they went along to watch a Dutch race on a spare day and just started playing.

Fans at the 8,000 capacity skating venue also heard the Village People song 'YMCA' played over the loud speakers on Saturday. The song is regarded as something of an unofficial anthem for the gay community.

Bakker had said before the Games the band was considering playing the song in Sochi to show support for gay rights.

Russia President Vladimir Putin has faced heavy international criticism for a law banning the spread of "gay propaganda" among minors.

Putin says the law is needed to protect young people while critics say it curtails the rights of homosexuals. Gay rights activists say it is fuelling anti-gay violence in Russia.

Bakker said he was pleased the song was played.

"That's good from the Russian organising committee," he said. "No problems. It is a statement, in a good way." (Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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