Athlete’s fight for maternity rights

Athlete’s fight for maternity rights

It has been five years since eleven-time Olympic medallist, Allyson Felix revealed in a New York Times article that Nike wanted to pay her 70% less following the birth of her daughter in November 2018.

This story cast light on the inadequate maternity rights for female athletes. Following the article, in August 2019, Nike improved its maternity policy, confirming that they would “not apply any performance-related reductions (if any) for a consecutive period of 18 months“.

Governing bodies and clubs have since been under pressure to provide better protection for female athletes. This article explores the key developments in recent years across some of the major sports in the UK.


In January 2022, the Football Association (FA) and Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) reached a landmark agreement which enhanced athletes’ maternity protection.

It was agreed that a new maternity policy will form part of clubs’ licensing agreement and must be offered to players.

Under the policy, a player on maternity leave must be paid 100% of her weekly wage, any other renumeration and benefits she would normally receive for the first 14 weeks, before reverting to the statutory rate.

The FA and PFA confirmed that players are entitled to maternity pay regardless of how long they have been employed by their club, to account for frequent transfers between clubs, which often takes place out of players’ control.

Prior to this, for players playing in the Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship any enhanced maternity protection was at the discretion of their clubs.


Most England women’s international rugby players were offered professional contracts from 2019, but the Rugby Football Union (RFU) did not have a maternity policy.

In February 2023, the RFU and the Rugby Players’ Association (RPA) announced a new policy which entitled England’s women rugby players to receive 26 weeks of maternity leave on full pay.

It also includes the option for pregnant players to move into alternative safe employment within rugby until their maternity leave starts e.g., community coach.

Further, the RFU confirmed that if contracts were renegotiated or extended during a player’s pregnancy or maternity leave, the player would have to be included in discussions and have their contract extended for not less than 12 months.


The England and Wales Cricket Board outlined their maternity policy in 2020, which stated that female players are entitled to the full salary for the first 13 weeks post childbirth and 90% of full pay for the subsequent 20 weeks.

Next Steps

For clubs who employ female athletes, it is important that they review their existing maternity policies to ensure that they are in accordance with the statutory requirements and the regulations set by their governing body.

To incentivise their stars to stay put, clubs may want to consider improving their maternity policies and offer further flexibility.

For assistance with reviewing or updating maternity policies, please contact the Michelmores Employment team