Sarah O'Dwyer: Mixed tales for women in sport

Sarah O'Dwyer: Mixed tales for women in sport

Tiger Woods passes a tampon to Justin Thomas as they walk off the ninth tee during the The Genesis Invitational in California. It was passed off as a piece of banter between the players as Tiger had outdriven Thomas from the tee box, but also shows an entrenched level of disrespect towards women in sport. Picture: Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images

TWENTY-FOUR hours is a long time for women in sport. Some exceptionally positive news can be followed by something so negative, it sends the perception of women’s sport backwards once again.

We’ll start with the positive, however, and the news that women who play rugby for England are now set to be entitled to maternity leave.

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) and the Rugby Players’ Association (RPA) have announced what can only be described as a ground breaking new maternity, pregnant parent and adoption leave policy for contracted England Women’s players.

In a statement they explained that the policy will work “towards providing a supportive environment for contracted players after having children as well as establishing policies to support the player during pregnancy”.

Players who wish to continue to be involved with the team while pregnant can do so, with a full risk assessment to take place when a player first advises of pregnancy. This is to ensure the safety of the player and unborn child. This risk assessment will determine what duties can be safely performed during pregnancy.

Players will be given the opportunity to take a full 26-week paid maternity leave, and players will be assisted in moving into other safe employment within the rugby network, in areas such as community coaching while they are pregnant, until that player goes on maternity leave.

Another positive in the move is that players will have certainty surrounding their future employment also, as if at any point during pregnancy or whilst on maternity leave, contracts are renegotiated or extended, the player will be included in all of the discussions and is promised to have their contract extended for a period of at least a year.

Then, when players return to the squad following their maternity leave within a year of giving birth, they can bring their child if they are required to travel for training camps — provided that a support person travels to assist in the care and supervision of the infant.

While the child is less than a year old, the child and support person can travel with the team for competitions with all travel and accommodation costs met by the RFU.

“While this will ordinarily be the period immediately before and after a match this will be extended for any overseas travel in consultation with the wishes of the player. There will be a similar provision made for any player who would prefer for their infant to remain in the home environment,” the statement said.

This is a groundbreaking move and huge credit is due. Many women have to give up professional sport to become a parent — particularly when they’re part of a team. If they don’t leave the sport, they can expect to lose out on earnings for their time on maternity leave.

English lock Abbie Ward, recently announced she is expecting her first child. She said that a huge amount of work had been undertaken by players, along with the RFU and RPA to ensure this came to fruition.

“I am confident that the policy will help normalise motherhood in sport and give players the best possible chance of returning to play should they wish to do so in a secure and safe way,” she added.

However, as I mentioned earlier, it’s often a case of one step forward, two steps back. Last week, Tiger Woods was photographed handing Justin Thomas a tampon after outdriving him during the Genesis Invitational.

Many have dubbed this as ‘banter between friends’. It’s far from it.

There was intent there. Why else would he have been carrying a Tampax branded product in the first place? Why is the need for a menstrual product an insult?

The fact that Tiger Woods is one of the biggest sportspeople in the world doesn’t help as the photograph, taken by Getty Images, has been seen by thousands, and probably millions of people around the world — many of whom think it’s gas.

Have your banter away but the need to further disrespect women in sport, number one, and the issues women in sport face when they have their periods, number two, is completely unnecessary.

In a week where female sports players are beginning to have some certainty surrounding their sporting careers while pregnant this, unfortunately, knocked many women back down to earth.

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