Blog > News & Trivia

The New FIFA Maternity Leave Legislation Explained

The New FIFA Maternity Leave Legislation Explained

At the start of June 2024, a new wave of measures was introduced by FIFA that will give a positive boost to the lives of many women working in professional football today. As women's football across the world continues to expand and grow, attracting new fans and generating more and more income, football legislators are ensuring that adequate infrastructure is put in place to support this growth while considering the unique challenges female pros face in contrast to their male counterparts. This is happening largely thanks to the tireless campaigning of various groups and individuals advocating for reform in the game, and those at the top are gradually making the changes required for a fairer system.

In this article, we'll be providing you with a brief summary of the recent changes that have been made to the rules regarding maternity leave for women working in football. We'll explain the significance of FIFA's reforms and spotlight the voices who have been arguing for fairer conditions for female coaches and players across the world (and who will continue to do so). Later on, we'll explore what more can be done to offer support to women pros; but first, we'll flesh out the basics of the new protocols.

What rules have FIFA introduced relating to maternity leave in football?

In May, the FIFA Council approved a set of new protocols regarding maternity leave in football, which then came into effect on 1st June 2024. Designed to provide increased financial security to women working in the sport, the new rules will give all players and coaches within football associations overseen by FIFA access to a minimum of 14 weeks of paid maternity leave.

On top of the changes to maternity leave protocol, the rules regarding adoption have also been altered. Players and coaches will also now have access to a minimum of eight weeks of paid leave if they adopt a child younger than two years old, allowing them a better chance to bond with their new child and spend more time with their family during this transitional time. For an adopted child aged between two and four years old, there will be a period of four weeks of paid leave available, while for adopted children aged four and over there will be a period of two weeks available.

The extension of maternity support to all women playing and coaching in professional football, and the extension of maternity cover to adoptive parents, is the core of the new FIFA legislation. 

However, other issues are addressed too. Another key entitlement handed out to players as part of this new raft of measures will see players permitted to request leave from training and matches due to menstrual health reasons while still receiving full pay from their clubs.

Additionally, for international players, the difficulty of remaining in contact with family members while away on international duty (at a FIFA World Cup, for example) is also tackled by the new legislation, which encourages national associations across the world to make this kind of contact more easily accessible for players.

Who do the new rules apply to?

Previously, the maternity coverage outlined above (aside from the new protocols on adoptive parents) was available to players only, but the new legislation ensures that female coaches also have access to the same level of maternity cover. This applies to anyone playing or managing under the jurisdiction of a national football association affiliated with FIFA (there are a total of 211 nations affiliated to FIFA).

Additionally, players can now sign with clubs if their return from maternity, adoption, or family leave comes outside of the typical registration window. This means that clubs can work outside the standard transfer windows to sign replacements for players out on maternity/adoptive/family leave, while any period of family-related absence will not impact a players' ability to sign with a new team (returning players can be re-registered at any point).

How have those working in women's football reacted to the news?

When it comes to allowing women to balance their football careers and family life, these new protocols mark significant progress. The fact that they were approved unanimously by the FIFA Council shows how necessary their introduction has been, and already they've received a huge amount of support from people within the world of women's football.

Former USWNT coach Jill Ellis has come out in support of the reforms, saying "A football career shouldn’t exclude being a mum or raising a child. If I didn’t have support, I couldn’t have maintained my career." Meanwhile, Sarai Bareman, FIFA's Chief Women’s Football Officer, also offered specific praise about the new protocols' consideration of menstruation as a key issue, stating "We must protect those affected by menstrual cycles to ensure their employment and earning capabilities are not at risk."

She continued: "When you're playing sport for a living, and in a professional environment, we have to factor in that the female menstrual cycle can also impact on your ability to deliver within your role. So, it's important that we protect those that are affected by their menstrual cycles in a way that it doesn't put at risk their employment situation with their club and, ultimately, their ability to earn money."

The changes, designed to acknowledge the unique challenges faced by women in professional football when it comes to balancing career and family life, were also praised by FIPRO's Alexandra Gomez Bruinewold, who has been pushing for such changes for several years.

"When FIFPRO began to draft a parental policy in professional football in 2019, the only women-specific clause in the FIFA RSTP was the exclusion of women’s football from training compensation," she said in a recent Q&A with FIFPRO. "When FIFPRO presented its policy in 2020, there was good collaboration with FIFA and by the end of that year, we had negotiated an initial set of maternity rules that came into force on 1 January 2021: these give women players the right to 14 weeks of paid maternity leave, among other benefits."

"They have become a baseline for player rights and helped mothers around the world," Gomez Bruinewold continued. "They help players to stay in the game, and not be pushed to choose between motherhood and their job as football players."

What more can be done?

According to Gomez Bruinewold, these FIFA rule changes are an important landmark; however, she also believes that plenty of additional measures could be introduced to further support women working as players and coaches in football. "There is much more to be done to make new mothers comfortable in football," she said. "Often players say they were confused about what to do around pregnancy and after childbirth. Clubs might have experts in recovery from ACL injuries but not how to strengthen muscles after pregnancy. Many players have had to turn to Google for advice."

In terms of specific laws regarding maternity and family leave that could be implemented in the future, she added: "We want players whose contract expires during pregnancy or maternity leave to be able to automatically extend their contract at least to the next transfer window. This right of extension already exists, for example, in Argentina and Spain, where the extension is for a full year. The average contract in women’s football is one year, and so it is important players can effectively make use of their rights."

"Separately, we want fathers also to benefit from family leave and adoption leave," she added. "If you give eight weeks to a woman partner in a relationship, there is no reason why you cannot give it to a man partner – the regulations are currently discriminatory. It is bizarre that a woman partner has the right to spend time with a child, but a man does not. We should not overlook the right of the child to be with both parents." 

In addition, FIFPRO are currently working on a set of guidelines offering advice on everything from strength conditioning, sleep and nutrition to regulatory issues and pelvic floor exercises, aiming to publish a practical guide for players across the globe. The new FIFA protocols will play an important role in helping establish balance between career and family for women in football, but there is still more that can be done.

The New Rules: In Summary

  • All players and coaches are entitled to 14 weeks paid maternity leave

  • Players and coaches must receive at least two-thirds of their salary during the leave period

  • Eight weeks must be taken after the birth of the child

  • No player or coach can be penalised or discriminated against for becoming pregnant or giving birth

  • In order to avoid a competitive disadvantage, when a squad member is on maternity leave their club will be able to register a new player with the team as a temporary replacement

  • Adoptive parents are entitled to paid parental leave, dependent on the age of the adopted child

  • If a player's contract is terminated due to pregnancy, the club could be hit with penalties such as fines and a 12-month transfer ban

  • Clubs are also urged to provide increased medical and physical support for new mothers returning to work