England women’s Rugby players to receive maternity cover

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) announced a new maternity leave policy on Thursday, entitling contracted England women’s players to 26 weeks of fully paid leave and funds for children under a year old to travel with them to games.

The policy, which the RFU described as “ground breaking”, also offers pregnant players the opportunity to move into other employment within rugby until they go on maternity leave.

“I am confident that the policy will help normalise motherhood in sport and give players the best possible chance of returning to play… in a secure and safe way,” said England lock Abbie Ward, who announced her pregnancy last month.

The issue of maternity leave for professional athletes has gradually come into sharper focus in recent years.

Tennis star Serena Williams was denied a seeding at the 2018 French Open when she returned to competition after the birth of her daughter, leading to widespread criticism of the tournament organisers.

By the end of the year, the Women’s Tennis Association had changed its rules on maternity leave to offer players returning from pregnancy not just a protected ranking, but also a protected seeding.

In 2019, sportswear giant Nike introduced a new maternity policy for all its sponsored athletes, guaranteeing pay and bonuses for 18 months around pregnancy.

The changes at Nike were sparked by criticism from six-time Olympic gold medallist Allyson Felix, who made headlines when she revealed her longtime sponsor wanted to pay her 70% less after she had her first child.

World soccer governing body FIFA introduced 14 weeks of maternity leave in 2020, the same year that the Women’s National Basketball Association announced fully paid maternity leave as part of its collective bargaining agreement for the first time.

The RFU added that if contracts were renegotiated or extended during the player’s pregnancy or maternity leave, the player would have to be included in discussions and have their contract extended for at least 12 months.

Rugby Players’ Association general secretary Christian Day described the new policy as a “significant step forward” for the women’s game in England.

“This new policy ensures that our women’s players will be better supported through parenthood when representing England,” Day said.

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