Sports and Motherhood: Opposite Poles?

Sports and Motherhood: Opposite Poles?

The story of Lara Lugli, an Italian volleyball player who was fired for being an expecting mother, serves as a reminder of discrimination.

The story of Lara Lugli, an Italian volleyball player who was fired for being an expecting mother, serves as a reminder of the discrimination that women athletes have to face when they decide to step towards motherhood. 

In the meantime, brands such as Nike launch a new ad that celebrates maternity and new mothers, sending a message that it is new mothers who are the athletes in our world.

Last week, Lara Lugli decided to post on Facebook the situation that she was living being a volleyball player of the second division in Italy. In 2019, she became pregnant and as soon as she announced this at the Pordenone Club,  they decided to end her contract. She was not surprised because this possibility had been established in her contract, and one month later she suffered an abortion. When she claimed her last salary to the Sports Club, it was refused and she decided to sue them. The Sports Club answered the complaint claiming that the athlete had hidden her desire to get pregnant and also making her accountable for the loss of sponsorships and the bad results of the Club. The case made a lot of noise since Italy is one of the European countries with wider gender gaps in the EU.


The latter case also reminds us of the situation of Allyson Felix, who is one of the most widely known sprinters and used to be a marketed Nike Athlete. When Allyson became a mother in the year 2018, she alleged that Nike was not supportive of her new status as an athlete and a new mother. Nike gave her a 70% pay cut in her deal and did not agree to contractually guarantee her that she would not be punished if she didn’t perform at her best during postpartum. It is worth mentioning that Allyson has won 6 Olympic gold medals and has received 12 record time gold medals at World Championships. After this episode, she signed a contract with GAP’s Athleta Brand.

Serena Williams has also played her part in the battle for equality of athlete mothers. After giving birth in 2018 and having faced many complications, Serena Williams made an Instagram post expressing the challenges of motherhood and since then she has continued to perform at the highest level, sending a message that balancing between work and motherhood is a true art and that mothers are the true heroes.

The situation that Allyson Felix faced with Nike and that was publicly known, put pressure on Nike to develop and announce a maternity policy for sponsored athletes. The policy includes a compensation of 18 months. However, when she watched Nike’s new ad, she publicly expressed that the ad did not reflect at all the battle that many athletes had endured and that eventually forced NIKE to support maternity. In her Instagram, Allyson Felix posted the following message: “This ad is beautiful and heartbreaking. It celebrates all the right things but seems to ignore the struggle it took to get to this point."

The question that comes to our minds at this point is whether the sports industry needs all of the visibility that was given to the story of Allyson Felix in order to stop punishing athletes who decide to become mothers.

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