High-level sport and motherhood, a puzzle still relevant

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As the case of sailor Clarisse Crémer, deprived of the Vendée Globe 2024 after giving birth to her daughter in November, recently showed, reconciling high-level sport and motherhood remains complicated, despite some progress.

The result of a survey carried out two years ago by a working group associated with the Ministry of Sports is clear: a majority (61.6%) of the hundreds of sportswomen questioned believe that it is difficult to become a mother during their career.

“Sport is an environment that remains conservative. There are many preconceived ideas about what women should not do or could no longer do once they become mothers,” sports sociologist Catherine Louveau told AFP.

Fear of a drop in performance, prolonged break in an ultra-competitive environment, lack of support from sponsors, pregnancy is still seen as “risk taking” by many athletes who prefer to give up or wait for the end of their career.

But not all. Sailor Clarisse Crémer, the fastest woman in history during the Vendée Globe, became a mother last November… and was landed four months later by her sponsor Banque Populaire.

During her pregnancy, she had not participated in the first qualifying races for the next edition and her chances of being at the start had become non-existent, according to the banking group, which blamed the race organizer.

– “Reassure the sponsors” –

“We have to improve further and we will see how to integrate (the) pregnancy (in the regulations, editor’s note) (…) perhaps more to reassure the sponsors than to reassure the skippers”, declared Alain Leboeuf on Monday, president of the Vendée Globe, during a morning of debates on women’s sport at the handball house in Créteil.

“The sponsor is investing a lot and it wants its champion to be on the starting line (…) tomorrow there must be no skippers who are hostage to a sponsor who would say + me I don’t prefer to take woman because you never know +”, he detailed.

The case of the navigator “could happen in other federations”, estimated Marie-Françoise Potereau, member of the French cycling federation, and responsible for parity at the French Olympic committee. She adds that “on all these subjects, we are in too little or not enough”.

And the problem does not only concern France. In May 2019, athlete Allyson Felix, six-time Olympic champion, explained the difficulties encountered with her equipment supplier Nike when she became pregnant.

“If we have children, we risk cuts in our income from our sponsors during the pregnancy and thereafter”, denounced Felix, who has since launched his own brand of shoes dedicated to the female foot.

– Some progress –

In terms of team sports, Fifa took a big step at the end of 2020 by imposing maternity leave on its member countries. Extremely rare a few years ago in women’s football, players opting for pregnancy in full career are more and more daring to take the plunge.

But progress remains to be made as evidenced by the revelations, in January, of the Icelandic Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir.

Pregnant in 2021, she had denounced a sudden drop in her salary during her pregnancy and the reluctance of her club, Olympique Lyonnais, to meet the requirements of a young mother on her return to competition.

French handball, which has champion mothers, like Cléopâtre Darleux, is a pioneer. In January 2021, he signed a collective agreement which expressly provides for maternity leave, with one year of salary maintenance.

The Women’s Basketball League (LFB) hopes to conclude its own collective agreement, incorporating maternity arrangements, on July 1. But the road still seems long for the sports world as a whole.

“Recent news has shown that sports competitions and regulations do not yet take maternity-related issues sufficiently into account,” Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra said on Monday.

She launched avenues to improve the situation, including the adoption of a “parenthood criterion” in the aid criteria of the National Sports Agency (ANS) or the extension from one to two years of registration. from the list of high-level athletes to “give time” to women.

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