As is now often the case, my interview with Benthe took place on Zoom. Benthe was sat in front of a trophy cabinet full of shiny gold cups, “They aren’t mine” she tells me, “I don’t get to take them home!”
They have been won by the 65 sports clubs at Newcastle University and it’s Benthe’s job to oversee all of these clubs, whether they compete in BUCs, local leagues or recreational, intramural fixtures. She tries to give clubs as much freedom and autonomy as possible, explaining that a fundamental part of University sports clubs is that “they are run by students, for students”.
Benthe explains “I am so proud of Team Newcastle, it’s amazing to see our teams succeed because they work so hard. But equally, I am proud when members of our community do sport at any level, it doesn’t have to be high-performance, and people sometimes don’t realise that when they speak to me. They think I’m only interested in the big stuff but if you’ve managed to get out and go for a thirty minute walk then I’m so happy to hear about that”.
Furthermore, Benthe passionately believes that university sports should be inclusive and accessible for everyone. Kit is one aspect of this and Benthe, who played football for Newcastle University Women’s 1st team before she graduated, is leading a campaign against university kit supplier, Canterbury, for gender equal sportswear stating “I shouldn’t have to wear a coat designed for a 14-year-old boy. We don’t need to stand for that as women”. Benthe was pleased to tell me that her hard work has paid off and Canterbury will be releasing women's kit in the next few months.
Benthe studied political science at the University of Amsterdam and had the opportunity, through the Erasmus scheme, to spend some time in Newcastle as an undergraduate. During this time, she trialled for the women’s football team and made it onto the squad. This hadn’t been an option available in Amsterdam where the university are not involved with sports. Benthe enjoyed her time so much that she stayed in Newcastle to undertake her master’s degree and was able to carry on playing football.
It was the realisation of how significant sport societies are to the university experience that motivated Benthe to apply for the AU Officer position. She is also acutely aware of the barriers that women in sport can face and wanted to help female athletes to overcome them, “Quite a lot of women grow up surrounded by judgement. You hear things like you run like a girl thrown about, and when we get older, we become self-conscious about things or feel uncomfortable in sport. When I was growing up, I often played football with my brother and he could look at role models and say I want to be a professional footballer. I didn’t have that, there wasn’t any representation. I think now there are great movements but there is still a long way to go”.
In her own experience as AU Officer, she is often in meetings where she is the only woman and Benthe also works closely with the sports services who are all men. I ask her whether being in such a male-dominated environment is difficult, but she responds with nonchalance, “I’m good at saying no so it’s ok. I think its a cultural thing, I often tell them that I’m going to be Dutch and direct and I can take confidence because I know what I’m doing, and I genuinely care”.
Tomorrow I speak with Maria Voropajeva, production coordinator at ITV Sport.