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Cricket Australia Hit It For Six On Maternity Leave, But We Should Be Ashamed

From equal prize money to sponsorship ties, salary minimums and broadcast rights, there’s a been a swell of new policies and partnerships introduced to support our female athletes.

But they don’t tell the full story. They’re simply the public-facing initiatives embraced by leagues, governing bodies and sponsors who then scramble to prove their commitment to women’s sport during a very self-serving moment -- when it’s topical.

There's an area we have still yet to seriously discuss at any level, and those aforementioned stakeholders have been so reluctant to touch: motherhood. And, honestly, we should be ashamed.

In case you missed it, Cricket Australia is spearheading change by introducing a maternity leave policy where players with state, national or Big Bash contracts, who give birth or adopt, will be given up to 12 months of paid parental leave. They can also move to a non-playing role within the club prior to giving birth.

Women need to be made to feel comfortable pursuing a professional career in sports with the conviction that pregnancy will be taken seriously. (Image: Getty)

The policy also guarantees players a contract extension for the following year and offers other benefits and support until the child turns four.

Cricket Australia’s approach is a landmark moment for women’s sport, and one that should be celebrated. But the policy highlights a much broader issue in the industry.

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Don’t get me wrong, I shared a moment of elation when I read the news that Cricket Australia would be paying its female athletes when they would take time out from their careers to have a baby.

But why has it taken so long? And why are many other national sports failing to implement a similar scheme?

People say we’re inching toward equality, but that’s all we’re really doing. Inching. We should be taking leaps by now.

It would be nice for, you know, women to have some kind of security in their careers. In comparison, many male sportsmen either have stay-at-home partners or they can afford to pay for child-minding services, but female players aren’t paid enough for that. They’re barely paid enough to feed another mouth while they’re working.

And not all players can be as fortunate as Serena Williams who, after giving birth to daughter Olympia, had a full entourage on board to ensure she could make her remarkable comeback to the circuit.

We can be fairly sure one of AFLW’s most recognisable stars Daisy Pearce didn’t have such an entourage. Although, she’s one of the lucky ones, and I’m using ‘lucky’ very loosely.

Pearce is the first active AFLW player to take maternity leave and considering she is set to return to work -- in a playing role -- next year, the AFL had better ensure it provides an encouraging and supportive workplace for Pearce because it will only set the tone for years to come.

Let’s get real. We don’t treat female athletes like professionals and the lack of maternity leave policies is a clear indication of this. While we’re doing our best to make our elite female sports stars to feel like first-class athletes, we don’t take their careers seriously.

READ MORE: What Women Have To Tackle For A Career In Sport

Policies regarding maternity and pregnancy shouldn’t just be treated as a nice little income earner -- they’re an essential human right. If we want to professionalise women’s sport, it goes well beyond the pay debate. Instead, we should be focusing on nurturing fair working conditions and creating an environment where women feel comfortable taking a hiatus from their careers to have a family.

Could you imagine telling a female doctor or teacher or lawyer that they had no financial security if they were to fall pregnant during their careers? Because that’s exactly what we’ve been telling our female athletes for years.

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Take Nike for instance. It famously encourages women to ‘Dream Crazy’ --unless of course, they want a baby. There is a hypocritical disconnect between its campaign slogans and its maternity leave policy for sponsored athletes.

American runner Alysia Montaño, who ran while pregnant in 2014 and then again in 2017, called out the company, saying it would pause her contract and stop paying her if she were to fall pregnant.

Issues with Nike aside, one organisation which is taking its female athletes a little more seriously is Rugby Australia.

It stood up and took notice when Nicole Beck played while pregnant in our gold medal winning side at the 2014 Rio Olympics. The governing body now offers pregnant players office roles or other roles which allow them to stay involved at the club while also paying for a carer to travel with the player while on tour.

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It’s one of the better policies in Australian sport for female athletes and sets a standard for other codes.

But female athletes will continue to struggle to overcome the hurdles that discourage their participation, unless we move on from talking about equality to talking about basic human rights.

Women need to be made to feel comfortable pursuing a professional career in sports with the conviction that pregnancy will be taken seriously. Until there are policies in place that give women the opportunity to be fairly compensated for the time and dedication -- not to mention the literal sweat and likely tears -- they give to their sport, we will never bridge the gap.

Australia, we have a job to do to forge better working conditions for sportswomen and it starts with a call to arms from our governing bodies.