Back to the 5th edition of the sport business meetings

Back to the 5th edition of the sport business meetings !

In recent years, women's voices have been considerably freed up to denounce sexual harassment and violence against them. However, in the world of sport, one subject is still taboo, that of the desire for pregnancy for top-level sportswomen. Therefore, is there a right to be a mother for them?

Various speakers were invited to answer this question on 23 January. Around Michael Tapiro, president of the Sports Management School, were present Aurélie Bresson, founder of the magazine "Les sportives"; Maryse Ewanjée-Épée, former top-level athlete and now consultant and columnist at RMC Sport; Laurence Blondel, head of coaching for top-level athletes at INSEP; and Badou Sambague, a lawyer specialising in sports law.

Does a top-level sportswoman have to choose between her sports career and her desire to have children? To launch the debate, A. Bresson notes that more and more careers are being put in brackets, and this question arouses little interest from the media. Thus, one may wonder whether the question of pregnancy is a subject that is addressed among sportswomen and whether it conditions their careers? For L. Blondel, everything is organised around the sports project. M. Ewanjée-Épée goes even further, talking about a taboo subject; "as soon as a woman gets pregnant, we show her the way". She even talks about unofficial instructions given to sportswomen to wait until the end of their career to have a child. Should sports structures therefore be more understanding? For L. Blondel, top-level sportswomen exercise a profession like any other, and therefore must be protected by labour law in the same way as an employee of another company.

However, today there is a legal void for sportswomen who want to become mothers. According to B. Sambague, women's sport has developed considerably in recent years. And if there is no prohibition on the right to be a mother, complicated situations are put in place that lead top sportswomen to refuse this position of having a child. While maternity leave exists today, B. Sambague points out that after childbirth, there is no period during which the sportswoman is protected. M. Ewanjée-Épée goes even further, stating that the high level sportswoman is considered disqualified from her status as soon as she becomes pregnant. These rules mark not only a break in equality between men and women, but also between sportswomen who wish to become mothers and those who do not.

What about performance after pregnancy? Michael Tapiro reminds us that historically, a woman's body has been used for "hormone doping" in the USSR or East Germany, so that she gets pregnant at some point, so that her hormones improve her sports performance after pregnancy. For Mr Ewanjée-Épée, while the physical fatigue is certainly greater, the psychological benefits of becoming parents (more personal balance, more maturity) would compensate for this fatigue. But insofar as women's sport is thought up by men who know neither women nor how they function.

Several ideas emerged during this debate. The first came from Mr Tapiro, who proposed the inclusion in a charter of the possibility for a man to take parental leave from his high-level sports companion, so that the latter could return to competition in the best possible conditions. For B. Sambague, the problem comes above all from the mentalities which must evolve. Top sportswomen will not take the "risk" of becoming pregnant until they are protected by a legal framework. For that to happen, more women would have to occupy decision-making positions in the institutions, which unfortunately is not the case today. However, can sponsors take over from the state to protect top sportswomen? The example of Mr Ewanjée-Épée, who signed a sponsorship contract with the Prenatal brand during his first pregnancy, shows that some brands are not reluctant to support these women. Today, with the preponderance of social networks and the growing interest of sports brands in the women's market, one wonders why the private sector is not taking over more from the public. On the contrary, for Mr. Ewanjée-Épée, the state must fill this legal void because not all athletes are lucky enough to have a sponsor. One can also question the policies put in place for women's sport, and the opportunity for the state to be a driving force in bringing private companies in its wake to develop it.

So there is a lot of fighting, and some solutions have already been put in place. This is notably the case at INSEP, which has set up a crèche for its athletes. The problem is that children can only enter it from the age of 2; before that, it is often system D (nannies, families) that is needed to look after the toddlers during the long hours of training. There is still a long way to go. How then can we explain that the legal framework and the ecosystem of sport do not follow the evolution of mentalities regarding women's rights? For all of our stakeholders, women sportswomen of stature have to move up to the niche, which is still complicated, for fear of labels. Moreover, the major objective of sportsmen and women remains competition, such as the Olympic Games, and very often the fatigue of training leaves little room for the fight for more rights.

On the eve of the International Women's Sports Day, this 4th edition of the SMS Encounters has highlighted many issues, which are truly in the age of time. Let's hope that the development of women's sport that has begun in recent years will have a positive influence on mentalities and the issue of motherhood for top-level sportswomen. Sportswomen can also count on international flag bearers such as Megan Rapinoe or Alysson Felix to move the lines in the future.

Alexandre Duguy-Loi

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