FIFA’s Female Focus: Updated rules for female athletes and coaches

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This latest article in our Women’s Sports series summarises the recent amendments to FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (RSTP) in respect of female players and coaches. These changes came into force on 1 June 2024, following approval by the FIFA Council and, prior to that, the FIFA Council’s mandate of 14 March 2023 to explore further regulatory steps to protect the well-being of female players. These provisions, which are binding at national level and must be included without modification in the regulations of football associations (subject to specific provisions regarding collective bargaining agreements), expand the protections and support for women in football. Alongside the updated RSTP, FIFA has also published an explanatory note on the new provisions.

For further discussion on maternity policies for elite athletes in sport, see our previous article by Lereesa Easterbrook and Victoria Boylett here.

Extension of maternity provisions to coaches

A key change to the RSTP is that a majority of the maternity provisions previously available only to female players are now also available to female coaches, including paid maternity leave and contractual protections. The explanatory note explains that the objective is to ‘enable female coaches to fulfil their maternity role without being marginalised in the labour market’.

Adoption and Family Leave

The previous edition of the RSTP only provided maternity leave for players. FIFA has now introduced minimum, paid adoption and family leave for both female players and coaches, where they are paid two thirds of their contracted salary for the entire duration of the leave.

For adoption leave, FIFA has adopted a tiered approach with respect to its duration (which is shorter than the maternity leave provided to players and coaches) and is based on the adopted child’s age:

  • 8 weeks if the child is younger than the age of 2.
  • 4 weeks if the child is between the ages of 2 and 4.
  • 2 weeks if the child is older than the age of four.

The explanatory note explains that the difference in duration between adoption and maternity leave is based on the “different impact on the adoptive mother’s ability to work when compared to cases of biological maternity”.

Family leave entitles female players and coaches who are not the biological mother to a minimum of eight weeks paid absence.

Both family leave and adoption leave must be taken within 6 months of the birth of the child or date of adoption, respectively, and cannot be accumulated. Maternity leave does not have these same limitations, the only limit is that at least 8 weeks must be taken after the birth of the child.

Breastfeeding

Both the previous and the new RSTP provide that players are entitled to breastfeed whilst providing services to their club and state that clubs are obliged to provide suitable facilities for players to breastfeed in accordance with national legislation. This provision has since been expanded, as the new regulations state that that any reduction in the player’s working hours while breastfeeding is justified and must not result in a salary reduction. These provisions now also apply to female coaches.

The explanatory note states that the minimum standard is that there must be a “fully available, private and safe space”, and Annexe B of the explanatory note provides guidance on “suitable facilities” for breastfeeding in terms of location (a physically separate area close to the workspace), accessibility and availability, safety and privacy, the equipment to be contained in the facilities (e.g. comfortable chair, milk-storage unit and changing mat and table), and hygiene.

Medical leave for pregnancy complications

The RSTP now includes a provision entitling female players and coaches to medical leave on full pay where they are unable to provide sporting or alternative services due to medical complications, subject to the production of a valid medical certificate. The explanatory note accompanying the new RSTP confirms that “related to a pregnancy” is to be interpreted in a broad sense to include an early termination of a pregnancy or any other medical condition triggered by a pregnancy. There do not appear to be any time restrictions on medical leave. The RSTP simply states that the player/coach shall be entitled to full remuneration until such time that they utilise maternity leave.

Post-partum plans

The updated RSTP imposes an obligation on clubs to reintegrate players and coaches on maternity leave back into footballing activity, to agree a post-partum plan with the player/coach, and to provide adequate ongoing medical support. Annexe A of the explanatory note contains a list of examples of the types of things such a post-partum plan might include, relating to education, communication, medical & professional oversight, a return-to-play timeline and individualised support.

Flexible player registration

The RSTP previously permitted clubs to register a player outside the regular registration period to temporarily replace another player who is on maternity leave. The latest changes extend this flexible registration to adoption and family leave. These changes ensure better team continuity as clubs can maintain their squad strength without the disruption of player’s absence for maternity, family or adoption leave.

Menstruation

According to the FIFA Female Health Project Snapshot, 83-93% of female athletes experience menstrual cycle-related symptoms which have the potential to impact exercise, performance, recovery and ultimately their quality of life. In recognition of this, the updated RSTP includes new provisions providing that clubs must respect the needs of female players related to their menstrual cycle and menstrual health. Players with a valid medical certificate from their personal gynaecologist or a specialist medical practitioner can miss training or matches due to menstrual health issues and will receive full pay during these absences. This provision (which the explanatory note says was introduced to “protect players who suffer from severe menstruation pain”) does not apply to female coaches.

Encouraging family-friendly environments

Finally, Annexe 1 of the RSTP now provides that member associations are “encouraged to provide a family-friendly environment for female players with children” during the “final stages of the final competitions of the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the Olympics and the championships for women’s “A” representative teams of the confederations”.  The RSTP does not define “final stages”.

The explanatory note explains that the goal is to ensure that players do not have to compromise between taking care of their children and fulfilling their international duties. The explanatory note also states that FIFA encourages its members, in consultation with national team players, to adopt directions for accompanying children during the final stages of competition, including providing the possibility for families to be accommodated in the same hotel as the team or otherwise very close by, providing financial support for travel costs and/or accommodation costs for families, facilitating the provision of childcare services, providing suitable facilities for breastfeeding/expressing milk, as well as necessary sanitary provision for players with infants.

Commentary

The changes introduced by FIFA mark a further step towards creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for women in football. It is hoped that FIFA will continue to consult with and seek feedback from clubs and associations (and other relevant stakeholders) on how the new provisions are working in practice and what can be improved in the future. Future developments that we have identified for possible future consideration include expanding the scope of the menstrual health provisions to coaches, providing for longer periods of maternity, family and adoption leave, implementing firmer requirements on ‘family-friendly environments’, making express provision for different birth outcomes such as miscarriage or still-births, and considering whether and what support could be provided for players undergoing fertility treatment.

Authored by Lereesa Easterbrook, Josie Price, and Amanda Rees-Frometa.

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