“We want to see more women playing football, and at the same time have a family.” The wish of Sarai Bareman, head of women’s football within the International Football Federation (Fifa), is clear: to eliminate once and for all this recurring dilemma in women’s football – and among sportswomen globally – who wants to At some point, players have to choose between their sporting careers or their private lives. With the exception of the United States and a handful of nations that are taking small steps on the issue, the problem remains significant. Solving it is however necessary to open a little more the way to the professionalization of the discipline.
What does Fifa plan?
For this, three key measures are already planned by Fifa, which must announce them on the occasion of its next council in December. From now on, footballers will be able to benefit from a minimum compulsory maternity leave of fourteen weeks, “Paid at least two-thirds of the player’s salary defined by contract”.
Also included in future legislation “Compulsory reintegration into clubs at the end of maternity leave and the establishment of appropriate medical and physical monitoring”, as detailed by Emilio Garcia, the legal director of Fifa. Fundamental monitoring, especially since as illustrated by a 2019 World Cup analysis published by FIFA in July, the discipline has grown enormously in speed and intensity in recent years.
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These increased risks of impacts and contacts force players to abandon classic training very early in their pregnancy, even when they are continuing physical preparation. Or be very cautious when they’re on the pitch, as US international Sydney Leroux related last year: “I do non-contact exercises, work with a ball. I don’t put myself in situations where the ball can ricochet, where I can be hit. I don’t run at high intensity and I listen to my body. ”
Several of them also describe the difficulty of finding their best level. “The aftermath is anything but easy. I had to rebuild my health from A to Z. I have never devoted so much time to my sport than during this period. My muscles had literally melted and then I had gained about fifteen kilos », explains the American Amy Rodriguez, mother of two boys, at Fifa.com.
Finally, to secure the employment of players, the future regulations provide “Protection against any disadvantage linked to pregnancy”. It will therefore be prohibited for employers to “Subject the validity of contracts to the fact that the player is pregnant or becomes pregnant” : in other words, in the event of dismissal for this reason, the club will be sanctioned not only financially but also sportingly, the content of these sanctions not yet being revealed.
Among other underlying measures, note that footballers will be able to breastfeed their babies “Or express their milk” in suitable premises provided by their employer club.
Who will be affected?
This battery of measures, applicable from 2021, will concern the 211 member federations, and by extension all the clubs involved on the international scene – therefore placed under the jurisdiction of the Zurich authority. Each federation presenting more or less significant progress concerning the professionalization of women’s football, this new regulation should make it possible to reduce the inequalities between nations to some extent.
So that the structures are not too affected by the absence of their players, Fifa provides, during the period of leave, the recruitment of a player registered outside the normal period of the transfer market, with the possibility of integrate definitively if there is agreement between the two parties.
Why give sponsors?
There remains the question of the attitude of the sponsors, reluctant to see their icons removed from the field, and over which the authorities have no influence: “If we have children, we risk cuts in our income from our sponsors during pregnancy and afterwards”, wrote in May the American Allyson Félix, the most successful athlete in history, in a platform of New York Times about Nike. The supplier has been forced to amend its rules, but not sure that everyone is doing the same elsewhere.
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The American exception
Until today, very few players have managed to continue their careers as mothers. The thing is still new in France, and it is especially in the United States, much more advanced on this question, that one finds mothers of families on the meadow. According to the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), which manages the US championship, seven or eight active players have children. The American striker Sydney Leroux, world champion in 2015, had to give up the Rio Games to give birth in 2016. More recently, her compatriot in selection and superstar of the discipline Alex Morgan, pregnant during the 2019 financial year- 2020, keep the Tokyo Games in the sights.