Last week, the FA agreed that professional women’s footballers would get maternity cover as standard. But why did it take so long?
Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker.
One story every day to make sense of the world of football.
Today… have female footballers been putting off having a family for financial reasons?
This season, there have been some huge steps forward for women’s football.
Sky Sports signed a three-year deal with the Women’s Super League, which meant they would broadcast at least 35 live games per season, and Barclays doubled their sponsorship deal to £30 million over that same three-year period.
That means women’s matches will get professional studio analysis, proper replays, interviews, everything that’s been… normal, for Premier League games since 1992.
“And also Arsenal’s aggression and their counter-press…the ability to win the ball back quickly was such a big difference. Just going on the clips, I’m just gonna highlight Viv Miedema…straight away she’s in the number nine position, higher up.”Sky Sports News
Yet behind that glossy facade, female footballers still face huge challenges.
The Football Association’s board has only just agreed that maternity cover – as well as pay during periods of illness and injury – will be written into women’s contracts as standard in England.
Just let that sink in.
Professional women’s footballers, being broadcast live on Sky TV, receiving increasing sponsorship, and attached to multi-billion pound Premier League clubs, weren’t automatically entitled to maternity provision.
Katie Chapman is a former England international. She’s won the Women’s FA Cup ten times with five different clubs.
And she has three sons. Here she is, speaking before she captained Chelsea to an FA Cup win in 2015.
“I love my children, I’d have them anywhere with me. And if we win this FA Cup, I’d love more than anything to take them up them steps to pick up that trophy for sure. Riley is going to be the mascot on Saturday, so that’s going to be quite a… tearful I think moment.”England
When Katie’s first son was born in 2003, she was the only mother in the England squad.
“Did you find it difficult to get back into the sport when you had kids?”
“I think it actually gave me the hunger back… after pregnancy, yeah to I think prove to myself that I could get back to where I left off.”Lorraine
On several occasions, Katie has spoken out about a lack of support from the FA.
Being a professional footballer means lots of international travel.
But with only a small salary, it means making the decision to either leave the children behind, or stay at home yourself.
In 2010, Katie asked Hope Powell, the England Coach at the time, for a short break from the national team because of family commitments.
That led to her central contract with England being temporarily cancelled and she lost her pay.
At the time, the FA said that they fully supported any England women’s footballer who wants to take maternity leave or concentrate on family life.
Katie did return to the national team in 2015.
But she’d missed the 2012 London Olympics and the 2013 European Championships. All because of an argument over childcare.
Is it any wonder then, that so many female players have waited until retirement to start a family?
Faye White – one of Katie Chapman’s England team-mates – announced her pregnancy and retirement from the game in 2012. She was 34.
It does seem like there are still negative attitudes towards women footballers who choose to take time off to have a baby.
American soccer star Jessica McDonald says that her coaches viewed her son Jeremiah as a “distraction.”
A lack of support and the physical impact pregnancy can have on a woman’s body means that not many women have returned to football after giving birth.
But it is possible.
Katie Chapman pointed out that the US Women’s National Team pays for childcare so that players can take children on international duty.
Alex Morgan, a star of that team, took a break from her career to give birth to her daughter, Charlie.
Alex has made 190 appearances for her country…21 of which came after her pregnancy.
“I mean, there’s no way to hide it, it was really difficult. And you have to kind of just give yourself and your body the time and space it needs.”Togethxr
“I think as much as I can bring awareness to what female athletes are faced with every day is important…”
“OK, I’m sorry, Mommy’s going to feed you right now…”
“As a female athlete that becomes a mom, we want to continue to be at the top of our game, and to do so, we need to be supported in all ways.”Togethxr
England player Katie Chapman was not even close to being “supported in all ways”.
The decision to write maternity cover into player contracts as standard might be seen as a step forward…mbut many will say that it should’ve been introduced long ago and the exact terms are yet to be agreed.
Will the new rule mean that more female footballers will take career breaks to have children rather than retire?
That depends on whether attitudes towards mid-career pregnancy change too.
Today’s story was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Imy Harper.