Suzanne van den Einden-Brok is a busy woman. In the past few months alone, she has advocated for women footballers with intellectual disabilities both on national television and to the most powerful names in football at the FIFA Women’s World Cup. She has served as ambassador at the recent Special Olympics European Football Tournament in Tilburg, captained the Dutch team through the tournament and won the ‘Keep Up With the Girls’ football video challenge. What can’t Suzanne do on or off the pitch? You tell us!
Fourteen years ago, Suzanne’s passion for football began when she joined her first club. Since then she has always enjoyed the game, but she often found herself as the only female player on a team. She said, “When you are the only woman on a team with all men, then you don’t always feel part of the team. For example, you need to have your own changing room—that’s often a very small room … But if you really want to play then everything is possible.” Her experience made Suzanne passionate about building a full squad of female players with intellectual disabilities, but she struggled to recruit women footballers—until she contacted the television programme, ‘Down with Johnny’. Suzanne went on air calling for women across The Netherlands to join her on the pitch. Not only did Suzanne get a full squad of players, she went onto lead these players at the recent Special Olympics European Football Tournament in Tilburg—an event organised as part of European Football Week 2019 and the ‘Keep Up With the Girls’ campaign.
Suzanne’s passion for getting women involved in football was the perfect match for the ‘Keep Up With the Girls’ campaign—which is supported by European Union through Erasmus+ and promotes football for women and girls with and without intellectual disabilities. “Football is a beautiful sport to play,” she says. “Why can't woman and girls with intellectual disabilities play? I want to be part of the movement to show that football is for women and girls also. And that they can grow while they are part of a team.”
The benefits of being part of a football team are clear to Suzanne: “14 years ago I was a very shy woman when I became a member of the football club. And now I talk with people I don’t know, I help to promote women’s football for people with disabilities, I was even an ambassador of the recent Special Olympics European Football Tournament in Tilburg and I am one of eight ambassadors/athlete leaders of Special Olympics Netherlands. I hear a lot of people saying that I have grown a lot. And I hope other women and girls have this chance also.”
It was for these reasons that Suzanne entered the ‘Keep Up With the Girls’ video challenge—aimed at spreading the campaign message far and wide. To her surprise, Suzanne won the competition and was awarded with a trip to the Quarter Final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Paris, courtesy of FIFA! Suzanne and her husband watched the match between France and the USA in the VIP box amid figures such as FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, Secretary General of FIFA, Fatma Samoura, former President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, and football manager, José Mourinho. Surrounded by such luminaries, Suzanne wasn’t distracted or star struck—true to form, she used the opportunity to discuss the state of the game for women with intellectual disabilities with some of the most powerful names in football. Now that’s what we call a true Athlete Leader!