Belgium’s Flemish language public television network, VRT, put sports journalist Eddy Demarez on indefinite suspension after he made homophobic and chauvinistic remarks concerning members of the country’s women’s basketball team during a post-Olympic livestream.
The incident occurred during a Facebook Live stream of athletes returning home from Tokyo on Saturday. Studio microphones were still active, and viewers picked up a conversation between Demarez and a group of colleagues.
According to a report in Gazet Van Antwerpen Sunday, Demarez commented that among the team, also known as the Belgian Cats, “I think there is one straight among those Cats.”
Demarez also commented on the physical appearance of specific players on the team, referring to former Washington Mystic Emma Meesseman as “a man.”
It was also reported that Demarez was informed by another colleague that his comments were going out on the livestream.
The initial response from the team, returning from an up-and-down Olympics that included a heartbreaking 86-85 loss to Japan in the tournament quarterfinals, was a mix of shock and dismay.
“I just really, really can’t deal with this right now. Thanks, Sporza,” Meesseman responded via Twitter.
Teammate Hannah Mestdagh tweeted that the remarks were “disrespectful, embarrassing and denigrating. Nice coming home like this.”
Her older sister/teammate was more direct:
Three players and a reserve for the Belgium basketball team were publicly out at the Tokyo Olympics.
Basketball Belgium, after consultation with the team, drafted an official response Sunday calling the remarks “unacceptable”. In the statement, it was noted that the players were rejecting offers for an apology and to meet face-to-face by Demarez, who put forth his own statement of apology Saturday night.
The Basketball Belgium statement also noted that more needed to be done:
At Basketball Belgium and the Belgian Cats, the question is whether someone with such opinions can still credibly act as a presenter and figurehead of our public broadcaster. We are convinced that the answer is no, and we therefore urgently request that Mr Demarez resign as a journalist and, if he refuses, that the VRT terminate his employment contract.
Messessman, who has been a leader in working with Basketball Belgium in developing projects regarding gender equality, anti-homophobia and anti-racism in the sport, pointed out the hurt caused to the team.
“Mr. Demarez’s disrespectful and hurtful words were a heavy blow that we just can’t take at the moment and which will for a long time be a stain on our peak of our careers,” she stated. “Fortunately, we are strong together as a team and fans. This is one of many examples of why we will continue to be committed to equality. The new generation is coming with the right values and with respect for each other.”
“Personally, it doesn’t hurt me to the core anymore, but I can imagine that younger people have more of an issue with it,” she said on a VRT news program Monday. “Such talk doesn’t belong anywhere, not even in a cafe, as I sometimes read now.”
The incident has also drawn the attention of Belgium’s national anti-discrimination watchdog. According to De Standaard Monday, the Interfederal Center of Equal Opportunities plans to launch an investigation.
“We have received about twenty reports and we have opened a file,” Anne Salmon, the center’s press attaché, told De Standaard.” Our lawyers are looking into the matter.”
Salmon went on to say that the center will contact both the national federation and the team in regards to possible legal options that could be taken.