One year after the success of the Women’s World Cup, FIFA intends to better protect pregnant players and impose maternity leave on the 211 affiliated national associations – a new step in the professionalisation of the discipline. “We want to see more women play football and at the same time have a family”, explainedSarai Bareman, head of women’s football in the world body, Thursday, November 19.
While most elite footballers easily combine high level and children, a female career is often synonymous with renouncing motherhood (or postponement), with the exception of a few pioneer countries, including the United States. FIFA therefore announced that it would propose during its December council a series of measures applicable from 2021 to its 211 member federations, which currently offer very unequal guarantees according to local law and practice.
Clubs engaged at the international level – therefore placed under the jurisdiction of the Zurich authority – will have to offer maternity leave of“At least fourteen weeks, eight of which after birth”, paid “At least two-thirds of the contractual salary” of the player.
Right to breastfeed
During this period, they will be able to recruit a “medical joker” – concretely, a player registered outside the normal period of the transfer market – even if it means integrating her on a long-term basis if both parties wish. They will be prohibited from “Subject the validity of contracts to the fact that the player is pregnant or becomes pregnant” : in the event of dismissal for this reason, the club will be penalized not only financially but also “Sportingly”.
Finally, after maternity leave, clubs must “Reinstate the players and provide them with appropriate medical and physical support”, said Emilio Garcia, legal director of FIFA. The player may in particular “Breastfeed her baby or express her milk” in “Adapted premises” made available by his employer, according to the future rules of the instance.
This return to the workforce promises to be crucial in practice, as women’s football has gained in physical intensity as it professionalizes, as revealed by an analysis of the 2019 World Cup published by FIFA last July. However, the risk of impacts forces players to abandon traditional training early in their pregnancy, even when they are pursuing physical preparation, and several of them described the difficulty of finding their best level.
The attitude of the sponsors in question
“I had to rebuild my health from A to Z. My muscles had literally melted and then I had gained about fifteen kilos”, told the double American Olympic champion Amy Rodriguez, mother of two boys, last year to the Fifa.com site. The Utah Royals striker, protected by her contract, is among the few elite footballers who continue their careers once they become mothers, such as her compatriots Sydney Leroux or Alex Morgan, who is aiming for the Tokyo Olympics after giving birth to ‘a little girl in May.
In France, the examples in collective sport have rather come from handball, with the international back Camille Ayglon-Saurina then the goalkeeper Laura Glauser, who became European champion with the Blue eight months after giving birth to her daughter.
The development of high-level women and aspirations for professional equality are gradually pushing sports bodies to take up the issue, as the International Cycling Union (UCI) had done in early 2019. For road cyclists – a discipline strongly dominated by men – the UCI had imposed maternity insurance from 2020, as well as a minimum wage which will be aligned from 2023 on that of men’s teams.
There remains the question of the attitude of the sponsors, on which the authorities have no control: in May 2019, the queen of the sprint Allyson Felix had strongly criticized, in a forum at the New York Times, the drop in premiums imposed by Nike following her pregnancy, prompting the equipment manufacturer to amend its rules.