In what is being hailed as a "landmark change."
In news today, female footballers in England will now be offered maternity and long-term sickness cover.
The move has been called a “great step forward” by Sunderland MP Julie Elliott and comes after years of petitioning.
It’s a landmark change for female athletes globally and will affect the contract of every female footballer in England, including the likes of Steph Houghton, Nikita Parris, and Millie Bright. Both the Football Association and Professional Footballers’ Association have shown their support of the change.
Elliott herself hosted the main parliamentary debate this week, shining a light on what it’s like to be a female footballer in England at current, saying: “I pay tribute to all those that have worked so hard to get to this point.”
Taiwo Owatemi, the MP for Coventry North West, said: “Women playing professional football are often faced with short contracts, low pay, and poor working conditions. It is important that we look into how to best ensure that what almost happened to my local women’s team in Coventry before Christmas does not become the norm.”
She is referring to the Coventry women’s team being told that their contracts had been terminated – and that the club was going into liquidation – just two days before Christmas.
Female footballers not being given fair contracts has been a debate point for years. In March 2020, the FA stood firm in its stance that maternity provisions weren’t their standard contractual offering and it was up to the individual club to grant it. All contracts at the time were drawn up in conjunction with the PFA.
But members of parliament and the public alike have been calling for more support for female players who choose to have a family pre-retirement. More women are having babies while still playing the sport professionally, including forward Alex Morgan. She gave birth in May 2020 and returned to playing professionally for Tottenham in November.
Fifa has made moves to make things fairer – last year, they announced a set of minimum rights to apply to all players globally, and further warned that they would fine clubs if they were found to discriminate against pregnant players. However, these actions came under fire for “not going far enough”.
“We’ve seen how long it has taken Alex Morgan, one of the best players in the world that probably has the best people around her and the best access to staff [to come back from having a baby],” said Watford striker Helen Ward. “For everyone else you’ve got to think it’s going to take similar if not more. It’s a tough subject and one that needs a lot of work.”
They had offered female footballers 14 weeks paid maternity leave with at least eight weeks post-partum at two-thirds of a player’s salary.
A good step in the direction of equality for female athletes.