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‘Only a first step’: mixed reaction as Fifa announces new maternity regulations 

Fifa has announced measures that will lead to clubs facing fines and transfer bans if they discriminate against players during pregnancy. The regulations, which provide minimum rights for contracted players in the absence of national legislation or a collective bargaining agreement, fall in line with the International Labour Organisation’s minimum 14 weeks of paid maternity leave, with at least eight weeks after birth, at two-thirds of their contracted salary.

However, there is concern that minimum standards have been set too low and there are holes in the strategy. The Watford striker Helen Ward, who has had two children during her playing career, expressed reservations. “It is massive they have taken steps to make it part of Fifa protocol,” the 34-year-old said, but, she added: “When I stopped playing to have my kids I wasn’t playing for more than six months; it was probably closer to seven, eight, nine months.

“There’s too many questions for me about what maternity leave consists of. Is it when you’re not in a footballing environment at all or is it when you’re not able to play? I was in the gym up to around six weeks before Charlie, but I wasn’t doing a lot and whether that would still be considered working as a footballer I don’t know, and I had a fairly normal pregnancy.”

Although the eight weeks post-labour is “an OK amount of time, it’s not massive”, she added: “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 … So 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.”

Morgan, on loan at Tottenham, had a child in May and played for the first time almost six months later.

Fifa has said the legislation is a minimum requirement and only the beginning of the development of these measures. Its chief legal and compliance officer, Emilio García Silvero, said: “We would like to see how these new regulations work within the market as a first step and we are fully committed to moving ahead with more projects when it comes to the labour conditions of female players.”

Silvero added: “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.”

As part of the changes to the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players, the rules ensure contracted players will be protected during their maternity leave and have the right to return to football after it, that they will be given facilities to breastfeed and have the right to independent medical advice.

They also allow clubs to “exceptionally register a female player outside the registration period” to temporarily replace a player taking maternity leave.

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Fifa’s chief women’s football officer, Sarai Bareman, said: “While we have at the elite end many women able to play the game that they love and make a living from it the reality for the global women’s football landscape is that the majority of women players are amateur and operate in an amateur landscape. So as we try to accelerate the professionalisation of women’s football it is also important that we adapt the regulatory framework.”

The Fifpro general secretary, Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, said: “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 … 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.”

The reforms will be put to the Fifa Council for approval next month.

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