Women athletes and career breaks

swis2As we continue to see the numbers of females participating in sport increase, our hope is to produce more elite athletes in a variety of sports who will go out and compete on the world sporting stage where hopefully the will have success and bring back medals and of course that elusive feel good factor to Scotland.

We ask a lot of our athletes who put themselves through a gruelling training regime day in and out; they also have to adapt their lifestyle for this privilege. Dealing with the matter of doping control who can call on them at any time, night or day, without any previous notification. Furthermore they have to forgo nights out with the girls and miss a lot of family occasions through their training schedule or travelling to competitions to qualify for major championships, which can take them away for weeks at a time.

There is one more pressure that falls at the feet of our female athletes and that is when to start a family? Will this be acceptable to the sport they participate in? Will it end their career – can they still achieve success post birth? Many athletes are now making the decision to have a career break with the full intention of returning to the job they love after the baby is born. This is similar in many ways to women who are doctors, lawyers, teachers, electricians etc. However time out from participating in sport brings many different issues. How early will they need to stop participating during their pregnancy, will they be eligible for maternity benefits during this time from their employer? And of course will they get support with childcare afterwards whilst travelling to competitions? And the big question will they get their place back in the team?

Currently a debate is raging through the corridors of power at the Football Federation of Australia where the Board has rejected a proposal to introduce a paid maternity policy. Feelings are running high and this goes hand in hand with a request from the Matildas’ for an increase in salary. Action was taken, players went on strike and boycotted a two-game series against World Champions USA. Both proposals have been rejected by the FFA who continue to stand by their existing maternal policy that allows players to bring carers and young children with them while on tour and travel with the players on flights. However they are not classed as part of the team delegation nor can they stay in the team accommodation. All of this must be paid for by the player with no assistance from the FFA. Whilst salaries for a lot of sportswomen women, particularly in the up and coming team sports remain at a very low level, this renders this solution as impossible.

This year’s World Cup in Canada threw the spotlight on the English FA. Katie Chapman who was pulled back into the squad for the tournament, claimed her central contract was cancelled in 2010 when she asked for time off to be with her family. However after her recall to the squad, who were under new management, she felt that whilst attitudes were more relaxed in terms of having her family around her, there could have been more support offered by the FA. In contrast, the United States squad contains several mothers and their national association pays for one nanny to attend each women’s national team camp. Support offered also includes travel and accommodation.

I believe for Scotland, the time is right to discuss these issues and look at having a secure policy across the board for all women in sport; this will ensure our sporting elite are looked after during this special time. With more sports agreeing to put their elite female athletes on contracts, it makes sense to look at all aspects of the contract and make provision for the future. Let’s decide what the policy on a player is in the early days of her pregnancy, does the coach demand her to play her, is she expected to train as regularly as the others? When does she stop participating, what happens once the baby has arrived and what maternity benefits is she entitled to? This folks, is a mind field and rather than leave it to the test, lets deal with the matter now.

Whilst I know most all athletes look upon their participation in the sport they love as an immense privilege we cannot use that to avoid the fact that we have a responsibility to ensure the welfare of our sporting role models. Debating, discussing and agreeing a policy is so much easier to deal with when you don’t have the ‘Sword of Damocles’ hanging over your head, and one off solutions to deal with the problem on a case by case basis does not set a benchmark for our athletes or give them comfort for future participation in their chosen career and our pride in their success.


This article is written by Maureen McGonigle, CEO at Scottish Women in Sport and was first published in The National, Scotland’s newest daily newspaper. Our thanks to them for permission to share @the3rdimagazine.

You can learn more from Scottish Women in Sport
Twitter: @scotwomensport

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.