Professional footballers in England will benefit from maternity and long-term sickness cover in a historic change to their contracts.
The move was hailed as a “huge step forward” by Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott after she called for a debate in parliament on the experiences of women playing football in England. The change has been agreed by the Football Association and the Association of Professional Footballers.
Players from the 24 clubs in the Women’s Super League and the Women’s Championship will be guaranteed such coverage for the first time. The details have recently been finalized and have not yet been revealed. “I pay tribute to all those who have worked so hard to get to this point,” Elliott said.
The FA said in March 2020 that maternity provisions were not in its standard player contract, which is drawn up in consultation with the PFA, and that maternity cover was left to the discretion of clubs.
Calls have grown for more to be done to support players who choose to have children, with a growing number deciding not to wait until retirement to start a family. They include high-profile players such as US striker Alex Morgan, whose daughter Charlie was born in May 2020. Morgan returned to action, with Tottenham, that November.
FIFA announced in the same month that it would introduce a set of minimum rights for players signed globally, with measures that would see clubs face fines and transfer bans if they discriminate against players during pregnancy. However, those proposals – a minimum of 14 weeks of paid maternity leave with at least eight weeks after birth at two-thirds of a player’s salary – were criticized for not going far enough.
“We have seen how long it has taken for Alex Morgan, one of the best players in the world who probably has the best people around her and the best access to staff. [to come back from having a baby],” Watford striker and mother-of-two Helen Ward said at the time. “For everyone else, you have to think it’s going to take something similar, if not more. It is a difficult subject that requires a lot of work.”
In a debate at Westminster Hall called by Elliott, the experiences of the players were discussed in light of the near collapse of Coventry United where, two days before Christmas and highlighting the precarious nature of the players’ contracts, the team that their contracts had been terminated and the club would go into voluntary liquidation.
Taiwo Owatemi, MP for Coventry North West, said: “Women who play professional football often face short contracts, low pay and poor working conditions. It is important that we look at the best way to ensure that what almost happened to my local women’s team in Coventry before Christmas does not become the norm.”
Several MPs urged sports minister Nigel Huddleston to announce if and when there would be a review of women’s football, after the fan-led review recommended one but no draw was made, stating a response would be included in the government response to the report’s recommendations in the summer.
Huddleston said the Women’s World Cup and Women’s European Championship had met the criteria of having “special national resonance” and would likely be added to the list of protected “crown jewels” events. That means the tournaments would be available on broadcast television to ensure the widest possible access to the biggest events in women’s football.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism