Belgian sports journalist for VRT's 'Sporza', Eddy Demarez, is temporarily banned from commentating on programmes after making inappropriate remarks about the country's female basketball team, the Belgian Cats.
After a live broadcast of the tribute to the returning Olympic athletes, a conversation could be heard in which remarks and jokes were made about the sexual orientation of several players of the basketball team.
The remarks lead to many reactions on social media, both from viewers and members of the Belgian Cats, including team captain Ann Wauters, and Emma Meesseman and Kim and Hanne Mestdagh.
— Ann Wauters (@AnnWauters12) August 7, 2021
"Totally unacceptable! Shocked. Disgusting."
— Emma Meesseman (@EmmaMeesseman) August 7, 2021
"I just really, really can't deal with this right now... Thanks Sporza"
Respectloos, pijnlijk en denigrerend. Leuk thuiskomen zo.
— Hanne Mestdagh (@HanneMestdagh) August 7, 2021
"Disrespectful, embarrassing and denigrating. Fun coming home like this."
— Kim Mestdagh (@MestdaghKim) August 7, 2021
In an official statement, VRT distanced itself from the remarks and added that Demarez will be temporarily suspended from commentating on livestreams.
"This afternoon, sports journalist Eddy Demarez made inappropriate comments about the Belgian Cats on the Sporza FacebookLive channel," the statement reads.
"The video channel remained open and even though Eddy was out of the view of the camera, the inappropriate comment could be heard clearly. Sporza and the VRT distance themselves from this state of affairs."
"The VRT management takes this very seriously. This goes completely against the positive policy the VRT wants to pursue," it said, adding that "VRT is having talks with Eddy and in the meantime, he will no longer provide commentary on any programmes. Statements like that cannot be tolerated."
Several other athletes - including players of the Belgian women's football team, the Red Flames - and Flemish Media Minister Benjamin Dalle also reacted to the remarks.
Homofobe en kwetsende uitspraken horen niet thuis op sociale media, op café, op de openbare omroep. Nergens. Het grootste respect voor de Belgian Cats en voor hun Olympische prestatie
— Benjamin Dalle (@dalle_benjamin) August 8, 2021
"Homophobic and offensive statements have no place on social media, in bars or on public television. Nowhere," he said. "The greatest respect for the Belgian Cats and for their Olympic performance."
Dalle said that he is satisfied that VRT immediately took action, and added that it is now up to VRT itself to see how the public broadcaster will follow up on this internally.
One of the Red Flames, Justine Vanhaevermaet, posted an open letter on Twitter, saying that Demarez' remarks were "disgusting, and of the very lowest level."
She wrote that these statements made by someone working for Flemish public broadcaster VRT are indicative of how people still think about female athletes.
— JustineVanhaevermaet (@JVanhaevermaet) August 7, 2021
"This shows once again what we, female (top) athletes, have to deal with on a frequent basis. We have all heard the many prejudices and derogatory remarks hundreds of times," Vanhaevermaet said.
Demarez himself apologised to the Belgian Cats, saying that "in the euphoria after the honouring of the returned medalists, I made statements in a private conversation away from the studio in which I seriously went over the top."
"I never had the intention to offend anyone on the basis of gender or sexual orientation," he said in an official statement. "It is doubly unfortunate that these statements are a stain on the Games, which were very successful for Team Belgium and Sporza."
"I would therefore like to offer my sincere apologies to the Belgian Cats and their team and to anyone else who feels insulted, offended or short-changed by this," Demarez said.
"I have asked the Belgian Cats to convey my apologies to them personally," he added. "I will draw the necessary lessons from this and make sure that it does not happen again in the future."