UK Sport have committed to supporting mothers in sport with a “more overt approach”, including new maternity guidance and guaranteed funding for elite athletes up to nine months postpartum.
Last year a Telegraph Sport investigation found that, while UK Sport encouraged individual sporting governing bodies to have maternity policies in place, it had left it up to them to determine the details, causing confusion and potential funding losses for athletes.
But on Tuesday, UK Sport are set to publish updated guidance for pregnant athletes and the sports they oversee, and also revealed to Telegraph Sport they have now implemented a sports-wide maternity pay policy, which guarantees elite athletes full funding throughout their pregnancy and up to nine months after giving birth.
The policy applies to those who are on Athlete Performance Agreements (APAs), who receive National Lottery-funded grants, and are therefore ineligible for statutory maternity pay that standard employees enjoy.
As well as the guaranteed continuation of funding, which was introduced in April, the new guidance gives advice to athletes about how and when to share their pregnancy with their sport, advises the sport on next steps, provides frameworks for training pre and postpartum as well as extensive resources for pregnant athletes.
“At UK Sport, we really strongly believe that starting a family and being an elite athlete shouldn’t be mutually exclusive,” CEO Sally Munday told Telegraph Sport in an exclusive interview. “We’re taking a much more overt approach to this. What we want through this new guidance is to ensure that female athletes and sports have got the right resources at their disposal so that mothers and mothers-to-be are confident they’ll be fully supported. That’s the real driver.”
Through an 18-month consultation, which included gathering expertise from athletes, sports, medical professionals and charities, UK Sport found that pregnancy must be treated differently according to the safety of the sport and the individual’s unique experience, and so avoided making the guidance “one-size-fits-all”.
The framework did propose specific timeframes though, including that athletes must “signal their intent” within six months of giving birth regarding their plans to return to pre-pregnancy levels of training. At nine months, athlete potential will be assessed and confirmed to UK Sport, in order for them to continue accessing their funding, but this timeframe could be reconsidered if an athlete were to experience complications during their pregnancy or childbirth.
Five-time Olympic archer Naomi Folkard knows the obstacles for new mothers in elite sport, as she was forced to pump and freeze 80 bottles of breast milk ahead of flying to Tokyo, when the IOC did not permit her to travel with her five-month-old daughter due to Covid restrictions. She was one of the athletes who contributed to UK Sport’s consultation and said the new guidance is potentially life-changing.
“I think if this was in place 20 years ago and [sport] was a safe place to talk about pregnancy, I may well have chosen to have a baby a lot earlier in my career,” Folkard said. “In my early 20s I felt like having a baby and being an athlete wasn’t possible. I’ve now had a baby and I’ve competed in Tokyo when she was five months old, and I realised that it is totally possible. I could have made very different choices earlier on in my career.”
Munday agreed making motherhood an open conversation in elite sport, rather than a taboo, is UK Sport’s key aim: “We want to make sure that female athletes can talk about starting a family in the same way they talk about what they might want to study alongside being an athlete or what they want to do as a career post being an athlete. It’s been driven by our ambition for our community to be world-leading in this space.”
UK Sport also said it planned to provide further guidance specifically on surrogacy, egg-freezing, adoption, IVF and same-sex parents.