Fifa to grant maternity protections for footballers

The measures were supported by England player Jodie Taylor (left)
Image: 6257) Richard Callis/Zuma Press/PA Images

Fifa, football’s international governing body, is to grant female players’ maternity rights and protect them against discrimination while pregnant.

Under the reforms, which are subject to approval next month, professional players and coaches will be entitled to at least 14 weeks’ maternity leave on at least two-thirds of their salary, although many players are already entitled to longer periods of leave under national employment law.

The proposed rights are in line with the International Labour Organisation’s minimum 14 weeks of paid maternity leave at two-thirds of their contracted salary, with at least eight weeks off after birth.

In the UK, statutory maternity pay is available for up to 39 weeks and includes 90% pay for the first six weeks and then £151.20 per week or 90% of average weekly earnings, whichever is lower, for weeks seven to 39.

Fifa’s chief legal and compliance officer, Emilio Garcia Silvero said: “The clubs will not be allowed to terminate the contract of a player on the grounds of a player becoming pregnant.

“If this is the case, we are going to impose not only a fine, and compensation to the player, but also a sporting sanction.

“We are going to impose a transfer ban on the club. From now on, female players will be better protected.

“We think these rules are common sense. There are some countries in which these rights are already there, but we are trying to regulate this for 211 different territories. These basic conditions will be mandatory from 1 January, 2021.”

The regulations, which require Fifa Council approval, also state that:

  • Clubs will be obliged to ‘reintegrate’ players after a period of maternity leave
  • Clubs will need to provide ‘adequate’ ongoing medical support
  • Clubs will be permitted to sign female players outside of the usual transfer windows where short-term cover is needed while a player is on maternity leave
  • New mothers must be offered an opportunity to breastfeed and/or express milk
  • Players have the possibility to remain registered, and if mutually agreed not to while on leave, to be registered upon return of the maternity leave, even outside the registration period.

If a player’s contract is terminated while they are pregnant or on maternity leave, the club will be obliged to prove their dismissal is unrelated to the maternity. Should they be unable to do so, the player will be entitled to extra compensation equal to six salaries on top of the remaining value of the contract.

The measures were welcomed by professional football players’ representative body Fifpro. It said that in 2017 only 2% of female players had children while 47% said they would leave the game early to start a family, citing the lack of childcare provisions.

“This is such an impactful and meaningful addition to our sport,” said Jodie Taylor, England player and a member of Fifpro’s Global Player Council.

“Women’s footballers need these types of regulations to ensure that we can continue our careers confident that adequate provisions are in place should we decide to have children, which is both reassuring for us as players and reflective of what the professional game needs to keep growing. Hopefully this is the beginning of even more progressive and inclusive policies for female players.”

Fifpro general secretary Jonas Baer-Hoffmann said: “The players were pushing for these improvements and it is good to see that FIFA listened to the voice of the players.

“We expect this breakthrough policy will help to normalise the conversation for professional female athletes to have children if they choose. Professional footballers are parents too and especially for women there have been too many obstacles. It is essential to acknowledge and protect the right of being a parent in football regulations.”

“However, this is only a first step, because these regulations represent a minimum set of protections. We will continue to push – internationally and domestically – for more holistic parental policies and even more favourable conditions, such as longer maternity periods and considerations for parents in general.”

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