The Tokyo Olympics will likely be a game-changer for athlete mothers
From almost missing qualifying games due to pregnancy to worrying about not being able to breastfeed their children during games, these working mothers called for changes.
In March, the International Olympic Committee and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Organizing Committee announced that the Tokyo Games will be the “first gender equitable Olympic Games in the history.”
The gender gap in sport is well known. Men have dominated elite sport for centuries, but thanks in part to the advocacy of organizations like the IOC Women in Sport Commission, the global representation of women in sport is greater than ever.
Central to this movement is the increased visibility of elite female athletes competing and succeeding in the Olympics, which inspires future Olympians around the world. However, major obstacles remain, especially those that athletes face.
Breastfeeding at the Olympics
Mothers participated in competitions at the Olympic Games since the Paris Games in 1900, when women’s competitions were added for the first time. But the 2020 Tokyo Olympics highlighted the obstacles mothers and expectant mothers face as they battle for coveted spots on the Olympic list.
Veteran Canadian basketball player Kim Gaucher recently made a plea on social media to allow her three-month-old daughter (who she was still breastfeeding) to be brought to Tokyo. The organizing committee’s first answer was no, given the pandemic restrictions. As pressure from the international media increased, the committee’s stance changed.
No athlete should have to choose between their child and an Olympian
But right before this decision is @ CanBball player Kim Gaucher (@ 8kimsmith) https://t.co/uzJ4ZeySot pic.twitter.com/j9zGUI0C9z
– CBC Olympics (@CBCOlympics) June 24, 2021
In a statement to the CBC, the committee said: “As we understand it, there were no children in the Olympic Villages during the previous Games. Nevertheless, special circumstances can arise, especially with small children. “
With the final reversal of their decision, Gaucher and her daughter will take part in the Olympic Games together.
Battle for qualification
In 2018, Canadian Olympic boxer Mandy Bujold’s dream of starting a family came true with the birth of her daughter.
Knowing that Bujold wanted to take part in more Olympics, she set her sights on Tokyo 2020. Her plans were almost put on hold when the International Olympic Committee’s boxing task force announced that the qualifying criteria for the Tokyo Games would be based on placements in three tournaments where Bujold had not competed due to her pregnancy.
Bujold struggled and took her case to the Sports Arbitration Court, which on June 30 ruled that women who were pregnant or postpartum during the qualifying period must be accommodated.
Mothers make waves
After a career spanning nearly two decades, marked by six Olympic gold medals over the course of four games and countless world championship victories, American sprinter Allyson Felix could have retired in 2019 with an unparalleled legacy in athletics when she became pregnant in 2019.
But she didn’t. Instead, the decorated Olympian is returning to her fifth Olympic Games in Tokyo – and to her first as a mother.
After a hiatus with longtime sponsor Nike, Felix’s vocal advocacy has forced big companies to rethink how they used to support and support women athletes after pregnancy.
Shortly after Nike faced public backlash regarding the treatment of pregnant athletes like Felix, Nike announced a new maternity policy for sponsored athletes back in August 2019. The new policy extended the period during which a pregnant athlete’s salary and bonuses cannot be cut from 12 to 18 months.
Another mom who is making waves in elite sport is Helen Glover, who became the first mom last month to join a UK Olympic rowing team. The notable part of Glover’s story is not only that she now has the right personal support, but that it has taken so long for one of the sport’s most funded and productive national teams to reach this milestone.
The research is clear
While participation in elite sport typically declines among pregnant athletes, women athletes push against the social narrative that they should “calm” it during pregnancy and beyond by breaking stereotypes and continuing to compete.
As female participation in elite sport has increased during pregnancy and the puerperium, our understanding of the health effects of elite sport has also improved during this period. Extensive research has shown the safety and benefits of engagement physical activity during pregnancy for mother and child.
The research is clear: From reducing the serious pregnancy complications from gestational diabetes to preeclampsia to improving mental health and birth outcomes, the best advice for most pregnant women is to exercise regularly.
We recently conducted a published study examining the effects of participating in elite sport during and after pregnancy on health and return to sport. These data provided reassuring evidence of the safety of participating in elite sports during pregnancy: elite athletes had similar pregnancy, parturition, and childbirth outcomes to lower-class and recreational athletes, and there is some evidence of a reduction in common pregnancy symptoms such as lower back pain.
Since pregnancy no longer marks the end of their athletic careers, many top athletes not only return to sport, but also break personal and world records as new mothers. As more female athletes train and compete at the elite level during the reproductive years, it is vital to develop sports guidelines to support the health and wellbeing of all athletes.
Jane Thornton is Clinician Scientist, Canada Research Chair in Injury Prevention and Physical Activity for Health and Sport Medicine Physician at Western University and Margie Davenport is Associate Professor and Christenson Professor of Active Healthy Living in the University’s Faculty of Kinesiology, Exercise and Recreation from Alberta.
This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. read this original article.