It was in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death in 2020 that Terrance Pieters spoke out against the racism he faced as a person of colour in the Netherlands. In an interview with a Dutch national paper, Pieters recalled instances of being at the receiving end of racist terms like ‘monkey’ and ‘Zwarte Piet’ as well as being stopped by police on his scooter while going for hockey practice.
He confessed that earlier, in media interviews, he used to play down or sometimes deny the racist abuse he faced. But in the aftermath of Floyd’s death and the racial reckoning in many white-majority countries, Pieters spoke out.
“In the neighbourhood I grew up in, I had other people of colour in my team and walking around in my club,” Pieters told Scroll.in in Rourkela where he is playing for the national team at the 2023 FIH Men’s Hockey World Cup. “It was pretty normal for us. But once I played other teams, I started realising there are not many people of colour or people coming from different backgrounds playing hockey.”
Hockey in Europe has been predominantly a sport played by white people despite having a sizeable immigrant population. England has had some players of African and Asian origin play over the years. Germany’s former captain Michael Green was a person of colour .
Terrance is the son of a Surinamese mother and a Dutch father of Indonesian origin. It helped Terrance and his older sister Melissa, also a hockey player, that they grew up in the city of Almere which was multicultural. Maartje Scheepstra, the former Netherlands women’s player who won silver at the 2004 Athens Olympics, also hails from Almere.
Like many young boys of colour in the Netherlands, Terrance dreamed of becoming a football player and possibly playing for Barcelona and Manchester United. He even wears the No 11 for the Netherlands and club Kampong One like his idol, the former Ivory Coast and Chelsea footballer, Didier Drogba. But he took up hockey after realising it would be easier for his parents to send both their children to the same hockey club.
“Growing up as a person of colour in the Netherlands was good but a lot of times I had to deal with negative stuff as well. But I have always felt quite accepted in all the teams I have played in,” Pieters said.
He started playing because his sister played hockey, she had friends in school and neighbours who played the sport too.
“I grew up in a town which was multicultural and in my neighbourhood, I never had any struggles with that. Once you get older, you start realising it’s kinda new to some people,” he said.
“I don’t feel like I have to work extra hard but there has been more focus on me. People see me and notice me more often. But I have only seen that as a motivation for me to prove that I belong in the team and I can work my way up. I only use it as motivation.”
Though he spoke out openly against racism in the Netherlands only in 2020, Terrance’s mother Kathleen Pieters told Scroll.in that her son would often be frustrated and angry. It was only at her insistence that he would try and ignore the abuse and just focus on his career.
“When he was 11 and playing at the D or C level, in a match he suddenly heard some parent standing outside yelling at his child telling him not to get close to the n****r,” Kathleen told Scroll.in.
“Terrance was so frustrated about it and I remember a year later when he was playing against the same team, all of us parents were talking to each other and I was talking to this parent and Terrance came up to me and said, ‘This was the guy who said that to me last year!’ He was really angry saying ‘You shouldn’t talk to him. He’s the one who made that comment’. I told him that with your behaviour, you have to claim that respect. And that’s what he did.”
“He used to face this from parents and even other players. This one time, an opponent made a racist comment and it was actually Terrance’s teammate who grabbed that boy by the collar and Terrance was the one who told him to let the boy go and to ignore him,” she added.
Slowly inspiring change
Terrance admits that there has been a change in attitude towards race and inclusion since he broke through the national team. Pieters’ interview in 2020, Kathleen said, has had an impact with many in the sport having conversations around race.
Terrance’s cousin Marlon Landburg, who played for the Netherlands in 2019, is another role model for young people of colour who are eager to take up hockey. He too grew up in an area in Amsterdam which is really multicultural and diverse. Kathleee recalled when the local area wanted to open a hockey pitch, he was their ambassador for hockey in that area and was there when the field was opened.
“Clubs are getting more diverse. The hockey federation is giving attention to it. How can we invite people from other backgrounds, from other complexions of skin to hockey,” Terrance said.
“The perception of hockey in the Netherlands is still of an elite sport mostly played by white people. I have received very positive messages from people from other backgrounds and of colour like ‘Wow I didn’t know you played hockey and you inspire me to go play hockey’. That is a really nice change which is happening slowly but surely.”
“The society in the Netherlands is very diverse, with a lot of people from different countries and backgrounds. You can slowly see that coming to hockey as well. And that is good because I believe that the hockey society should be a good reflection of the Dutch society.”
Kathleen and Henry Pieters are proud of Terrance for not only playing for the Dutch national team but also for paving the way for children from diverse backgrounds to take up the sport.
“If you watch him at any club match in the Netherlands, at the end a lot of people come to him for photos or autographs,” Henry said. “It’s not only the white Dutch boys and girls, but also boys and girls of colour. Even when he plays against teams which have players of Chinese or African origin, they come to him for photos and autographs. He is special and kind of a role model for them, an inspiration.”
Even 7,000 kilometeres away in India, Pieters holds a special place. After a match in Rourkela, as he was making his way back to the changing room, an Indian fan screamed “I love you Terrance!”. The Dutchman turned around, beamed a wide smile and waved, sending the fan into a tizzy.