The advance of motherhood in football: other leagues are moving towards normalization and Spain is following behind | Soccer | Sports

The spark of change in the management of motherhood in women’s football has begun and Arsenal FC is a great example of this. The English club proudly announced this week that its star player, Amanda Ilestedt, is pregnant. She did it through a video on social networks, sharing the moment in which her coach, Jonas Eidevall, communicated the good news to the rest of her teammates. This is a communication and support policy that is unusual in professional clubs, despite the fact that—albeit slowly—work is being done to protect the labor rights of soccer players who decide to become mothers. In fact, in Spain still 30% of professional players rule out getting pregnant and choose to protect their sporting career, according to data from a report on motherhood and women’s football by Futpro – the majority union of the F League, made up of footballers.

“We have to announce something that is going to affect us for a very, very happy reason,” Eidevall told her players before projecting the image of Ilestedt holding an ultrasound. The Swede, on behalf of the club, highlighted that they were going to “give him all the support and help” that he needs during the pregnancy. And he added: “Then we will welcome you and the little one back to us.” Support during the process and guarantee of returning to the playing fields, something that did not happen until very recently and that is still in question in some clubs – countries like Spain do not have a unanimous maternity protocol. “It has been very difficult not to tell you anything,” commented the Swedish player, chosen as part of the ideal eleven of the last World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, with a laugh. “It’s phenomenal that they treat him with that normality. Although it is a shame that we have to highlight that they have announced it like this, that means that there is still a way to go,” says Pilar Calvo, general secretary of the Association of Women in Professional Sports. “If it helps other clubs learn and do the same, welcome,” she adds.

Being a pregnant mother and an active soccer player is not common. In Spain, footballers like Melanie Serrano (Levante Las Planas), Irene Paredes (FC Barcelona) and Ivana Andrés (Real Madrid CF) have been mothers in recent years. No pregnant woman. Perhaps out of fear of consequences for her sports career, since, according to Futpro, 46% of the players in our country are worried about the retaliation that she could have. So much so that in the Spanish first division there are only two footballers who have been pregnant mothers: María Alharilla (Levante) and Marta Corredera (Real Madrid). Along the way, Maider Irisarri, the first soccer player to be an active professional in 2019, when he played for Osasuna, in the Second Division. “No team is prepared for issues like this,” Irrisarri acknowledged when Navarra News Journal. Corredera and Alharilla renewed for another year after announcing their pregnancy, as established by the professional women’s soccer agreement. The first, she returned to the playing fields with her club. The second time, she never played again.

According to Futpro, 90% of professional players feel that it is difficult to reconcile motherhood with elite sport. The main fears fall on the end of the contract – 60% fear it – and discrimination when playing – 40% of footballers think so, according to Futpro. Meanwhile, only one article in the women’s football collective agreement contemplates motherhood. And the guidelines are brief: “They can decide whether to renew for another year or not, without specifying anything else,” explained the president of Futpro, Amanda Gutiérrez, during the presentation of the aforementioned report.

Without yet a shared maternity protocol in the F League – an attempt was made to include it without success in the agreement that was negotiated and approved in the summer – the Sports Law, in its article 4.7, requires the creation of a specific plan from 2023. “There is a lack of political will to force compliance with the law,” claims Calvo. Currently, her rights as pregnant women are subject, mainly, to the Workers’ Statute: 16 weeks of sick leave with 100% of their regulatory base.

Protection for pregnant soccer players is advancing little by little. Just over three years ago, FIFA approved a reform of the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players and established the rights of players to maternity leave and to return to sporting activity after giving birth. This is a regulatory umbrella of minimum criteria, adopted by the Spanish Federation in April 2021, which includes maternity leave of at least 14 weeks and maintains two-thirds of the salary. As well as “facilitate integration with medical and physical support to return to work.” The regulation also prohibited anti-pregnancy clauses and contract terminations, considering dismissal as unfair with its corresponding compensation.

The anti-pregnancy clauses represented a prohibition not recognized by the clubs, but confirmed by players like Sandra Castelló (Sporting de Huelva). “It is not allowed in all clubs. Many times we are not informed about the contracts, we do not know what appears in them besides the salary,” she assured the magazine. Panenka. Calvo affirms that the problem is in the type of contracts: “The majority of players do not have employment contracts, they are commercial. That’s why there were anti-pregnancy clauses, because a commercial one is private and does not have to be registered anywhere nor does anyone have to see it. They give it to the player and if she wants to sign well and if not, goodbye.”

To the puzzle of motherhood in women’s football, we must add the salary conditions – according to the new agreement, players earn 21,000 euros in the first year, until reaching 23,500 in the third year. Before the improvement and without yet having data on whether the percentage has changed, according to the majority union, 30% of the professional players in our country are afraid of becoming a mother because the minimum wage makes their economy too unstable. “Football players have children when they are 20 years old, because they are multimillionaires. With them it is different,” says Pilar Calvo.

All in all, the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand was the first in many aspects for a Spanish team that lifted the trophy and made progress in family conciliation—beyond the unprecedented crisis in the Royal Spanish Football Federation, due to the Rubiales Case— . That tournament was the first in which the RFEF allowed players to bring their children under two years of age, providing caregivers for when they were training, playing or in team dynamics of any type. The same steps followed in Germany and France. “For us it is also a learning process,” said then-German coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg.

When talking about national teams and motherhood, it is impossible not to fall back on the United States women’s team, with Alex Morgan as the spearhead—a pioneer in becoming pregnant while still active and returning to play for Tottenham when FIFA had not yet approved any regulations or protection— . The then world champion had three mothers in her squad for the last World Cup: Morgan, Crystal Dunn and Julie Ertz. It is precisely the international players who have the best coverage, but the NWSL clubs also offer childcare assistance to their footballers. “They pay for the nanny“, the plane tickets, the hotels, the food… It makes me feel like I can be the player I was before, and even better,” Morgan told Sports world during the celebration of the great event on Australian soil.

“They want to be mothers and they should be able to be,” claimed the president of Futpro in the presentation of the first report on the fears of female soccer players regarding motherhood. 58% would have considered starting a family sooner if they were not dedicated to high-level sports. “We have to adapt football and stop treating women’s football as if it were men’s football. We must seek information and take action,” she said. Although far from unanimous normalization in the world of football, Arsenal’s attitude seems to indicate that women’s football is on the right track. Also in maternity management.

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