The third BBC Elite British Sportswomen’s Survey has found that women competing at the top of their sport are more likely to delay starting a family because they believe that having a baby would negatively impact their sporting career.
Sent to over 1000 women in 39 different sports, the BBC sport survey received 537 responses from elite sportswomen across Britain.
Of these respondents, over one third claimed to have delayed having a baby due to their profession, and 4.1% admitted to having had an abortion - more than twice the national average.
Speaking publicly about her abortion two days prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympic games, celebrated sprinter Sanya Richard-Ross states that abortion and family planning is an issue that is “not talked about”, particularly in the sporting community. Richard-Ross hopes that by voicing her experience, she can “open up the discussion” about abortion and provide support to fellow sportswomen.
According to the celebrated British archer Jodie Grinham, physiology plays a significant role.
“If he [a male athlete] and his wife decide to have a baby, he can literally have a baby at any point. Sadly, if you compete you might miss the birth and that is rubbish, but it doesn’t take a toll on his body, his physique, his training ability, not having to physically handle the pregnancy”
While many female athletes – including four-time world sprint champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce - have had a baby and returned to the top of their sport, others view the physical toll of starting a family as the end of their sporting career.
“I wanted to have another child, but I know if I did, I wouldn’t be able to play my game anymore” says one British rugby player when voicing her concerns about the risk of a C section scar rupturing when crouching in the scrum.
According to the BBC survey, almost 20% of respondents relied on prize money for more than 25% of their annual earnings. In addition, of the 184 who said that they had delayed starting a family, 52% said that they don’t feel supported by their club or governing body to have a baby and continue to compete.
“I think it is a lot harder for women to have a family while playing sport. No-one in our sport has ever had a baby and come back and therefore I don’t feel confident that I would have the support necessary to start a family, mainly financial. If I wasn’t a full-time athlete, I would have hoped to have been well on my way in a career and have already started a family” - A respondent who wished to remain anonymous.
Therefore, taking time away from training and experiencing the physical impact of pregnancy can be viewed as financially risky for many elite sportswomen.
“I’m not in that 9-5 job where it is more accepted that women will take some time off at some point in her career to have a baby – you get maternity cover for those kinds of jobs. I don’t get maternity cover for my career; no-one is going to be able to go and compete for me”Jodie Grinham
Surveys such as the BBC Elite British Sports Women Survey 2020 help to shine a light on the issues affecting sportswomen today. To see the survey results in full please visit BBC Elite British Sportswomen’s Survey Results here.