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BRUSSELS (AFP) — Belgian Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing) made comments about the Flemish separatist party N-VA in a Dutch magazine that some are calling highly critical. The 2012 road cycling world champion called the party “extremist.”
Originally from Wallonia, the French-speaking region of southern Belgium, Gilbert enjoys great popularity in Flanders, the northern part of the country where Dutch or Flemish is spoken and where cycling is the king of sports.
In an interview published in Wednesday’s edition of Humo, Gilbert also said the yellow flags with a black lion that are present at the Ronde van Vlaanderen (Tour of Flanders) are unneccessary. The flags bear the colors of Flanders but the design differs.
“These flags have nothing to do in the race,” Gilbert told the magazine. “It would have been normal to deploy flags of the country, not a region.”
The official flag of Flanders has touches of red, the third color of the Belgian flag.
“As in France, there are extremists everywhere even in Wallonia,” Gilbert said. “People no longer believe in politics and vote for such parties. This is a negative choice. These voters do not even know what that there is in the program N-VA.”
The New Flemish Alliance party, headed by Antwerp Mayor Bart De Wever, did not respond to the magazine’s story. But the group did call Gilbert “disrespectful.”
Gilbert is not the first athlete to take on Belgium and the N-VA. In October, Vincent Kompany — the captain of the national soccer team — campaigned via his Twitter account for maintaining the unity of a country where tensions between French and Dutch remain latent and could lead to a new political crisis after the elections of May 2014.