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02nd Mar 2023

England Women’s Rugby team given 26 weeks paid maternity leave – will Ireland follow?

Clodagh McKeon

Irish player says the IRFU should reconsider their maternity leave policy

The Rugby Football Union and the Rugby Players’ Association announced generous changes to their maternity, pregnant parent and adoption leave policy for England Women’s Rugby players.

The new policy was introduced to ensure pregnant players get the best support during and after their pregnancy.

Under the changes, players will be given 26 weeks fully paid maternity leave with the chance to stay involved in the day to day running of the team.

Before taking leave, pregnant players can seek alternative employment within the rugby network. For example, they could work behind the scenes on community coaching.

If at any point a team member is on maternity leave and contracts are being negotiated, the player will be included in all discussions.

They’ll also have their contract extended for at least 12 months – talk about security.

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Another ground breaking change to the maternity leave policy gives members of the squad the opportunity to travel with their infants.

Any player returning from maternity leave who are to continue playing rugby within 12 months of giving birth or becoming the primarily caregiver following adoption, can travel with their child.

If the baby is under 12 months old and the team is required to travel for matches or training camps, mother and her baby may travel together.

This is on the grounds that an extra support person is provided so they can help care and supervise the child.

Who covers these costs you ask?

All accommodation and travel expenses for baby and additional carer are met by the RFU – impressive.

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“The policy will help normalise motherhood in sport”

RFU People Director Paula Grant said: “We’re really pleased to be able to implement this policy.

“The RFU is committed to providing a safe and inclusive rugby environment for all players, including those players who are pregnant or have children.

“We recognise that we need to develop opportunities and pathways for parents and players at all levels. Part of this requires an understanding of the challenges for players in the women’s game at professional level.

“The current policy allows players to make choices as well providing financial certainty. We know the policy will evolve over time and understand each player’s individual circumstances are unique.”

Red Roses lock Abbie Ward recently announced that she is expecting her first child.

Speaking about the policy, she said: “There has been a great deal of work carried out by players, the RPA and the RFU to get to this point.

“I am confident that the policy will help normalise motherhood in sport and give players the best possible chance of returning to play should they wish to do so in a secure and safe way.”

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Will Ireland make similar changes?

Of course, this is a huge step in the right direction to ensure women in the sport feel secure and supported on their motherhood journey.

However, it does make us wonder if and when Ireland will follow suit.

According to Ireland’s Workplace Relations Commission, all employees are entitled to maternity leave.

In saying that, not all company’s will pay it, meaning women will be paid just €250 per week from the state.

Last September, former Irish rugby player Lynne Cantwell, called for further investment into women’s rugby in Ireland.

She spoke on the appointment of new IRFU Head of Women’s Performance, Gillian McDarby and said she has faith that positive changes will be made in women’s rugby.

She said: “There is lots more data on periods, on maternity, on postpartum and on all of these things.

“If we know more about it, I think we will create way better systems that enable women to be represented and to feel like they belong.

“To be represented in sport more and therefore we will just get more and more coming through and better performance.”

So, there does seem to be movement in the organisation to properly address maternity leave and other matters that affect women in sport.

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“Hopefully the RFU’s decision will inspire others to follow.”

Speaking to Her.ie, Irish Rugby star Leah Tarpey shared her opinion on the new changes made by the RFU.

She said: “I definitely think this is a huge step in the right direction and one that is needed to support women in sport.

“I personally think that Ireland should follow suit and that the IRFU will reconsider our maternity leave policy.

“It’d offer a sense of comfort and security to us female athletes who may wish to have a family one day, without having to jeopardise our careers or put them completely on hold.

“The addition of paid leave would give players a sense of hope that they can start a family and not have to worry financially. I feel that a full time job should offer this just like plenty of others do.

“I hope that in the future the IRFU will follow in England’s footsteps so that when the time comes and I want to have a child, I can do so without financial worries and without the risk of losing my job.

“I believe the conditions for women in the sporting industry are developing and progressing and hopefully the RFU’s decision will inspire others to follow.”

The IRFU has not yet spoken out about the significant updates to the RFU’s policy. Although, we expect that more members of the Irish rugby team will want to see similar changes in the near future.

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