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For How Long Will India Refuse to Provide Maternity Benefits to Its Sportswomen?

Sports bodies across the world are providing maternity benefits to female athletes, so why can't India?

5 min read

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‘India’s daughter’ read the headlines when India's leading sports stars PV Sindhu, Saina Nehwal or Vinesh Phogat bag medals and accolades for the country. But these 'daughters' the country has embraced as their own, are also part of one of the most cruel sports ecosystems in the world, where absolutely no single federation or sports body has any provisions of maternity leave or maternity benefits.

They're expected to win medals, but for the duration of their careers, they're also expected to stay trapped within the system because they're simply not offered any better.

Because if they're standing on podiums and winning medals for India, what more can they wan't, right?

They can want more and female athletes across the world are getting more.

Pakistan Cricket Board's maternity policy provides full contractual salary to all cricketers while on leave, an assured contract extension the following season and even assistance to tour with their newborn child when the players make a comeback. Cricket Australia and New Zealand Cricket both offer full contract’s salaries while on maternity leave.


Pakistan captain Bismah Maroof travelled for the 2022 ODI World Cup with her seven-month-old daughter Fatima. 

(Photo: ICC)

America's Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) also provides a full paid maternity leave and a $ 5000 child care stipend. Tennis has a protected ranking for players on maternity leave that allows them to return to the same ranking they had before going on leave.

In India, as we have revealed in our series Motherhood or Medals, top squash player Dipika Pallikal was told her career was over when she decided to embrace motherhood, her sponsors pulled out. An upcoming star like Tababi Devi, who won a Youth Olympics silver in 2018 and then decided to become a mother, is now just 20 and struggling without any support on how to make a comeback.

In India, our female athletes have been made to choose- Motherhood or Medals.

Because if they're standing on podiums and winning medals for India, what more can they wan't, right?


We asked that very question to Indian track legend Anju Bobby George, the senior vice-president of the Athletics Federation of India, at an event in Mumbai last year.

Her reply: "Maternity leave… I don’t think it’s possible because athletes is the mother of all sport and it is very difficult in international arena. We need nearly 6-7 months to prepare for a major championship. So maternity leave… it’s not possible."

Anju's reply shows just how ingrained this sacrifice of India's female sports stars is in the Indian ecosystem that in the year 2023 we're not even questioning why. Why can’t a sportswoman have both? A career and a child.

As Anju said, being an athlete is physically very demanding and taking time out to become a mother not just means nine months of pregnancy but many more months after as well, trying to get back into shape and  returning to competitive form.

But it is being done. 


Dipika Pallikal did it and returned to win 2 World Championship golds and a CWG medal. Sania Mirza is still making Grand Slam finals, years after giving birth, MC Mary Kom gave birth to her sons and returned to win an Olympic medal.

But why are stories of Indian sportswomen embracing motherhood mostly an exception, and not a norm. Why can't the system have clear guidelines to help their decision-making easier. Why can't those women who do wish to embrace motherhood be assured that they will be welcome back?

For starters, it's men like Adille Sumariwalla. When asked by The Quint about the Athletics Federation of India's plans on providing maternity benefits, while sitting at a press conference to announce a bank's collaboration with the sports body to promote female participation in athletics, here's what the president of AFI had to say:

Should we give more support? Of course. If we have the money, of course we should give more support. It’s a balancing act between the revenues you’re getting and the revenue you disperse. So if we get more money, yes, we will do more things.

The men who run sports in India, don’t even think maternity policies or benefits are important enough to consider, unless even more money comes into the system. So then, how do young women like Tababi, who gave up their careers because they didn’t know how to make a comeback, find a way back?

The status quo has been decided by individuals  who have no connection with a woman’s right to have a child, a woman’s need to have a child, or her wish to have a child.

Because if they're standing on podiums and winning medals for India, what more can they wan't, right?

Well, she can want a lot more, she does want more and it's time we give her more.

We can start by at least acknowledging the incredible sacrifice some of India’s top female athletes have been making for decades, with absolutely no one to reach out to in their sports bodies. As JSW's Manisha Malhotra shared with The Quint, having a child is just one aspect of a spectrum of personal battles women face.


"I've been on all spectrums of this one. I've had an athlete who wanted to get pregnant because her family was pressurising her but she had an Olympics she wanted to qualify for. I had an athlete whose career had  barely starting when she got pregnant. Then I had someone who got pregnant but didn’t want to, but also wanted to participate at the Olympics so had to terminate her pregnancy. 

"The emotional turmoil of terminating a pregnancy  is not easy. Either way you’re losing out on something. Either you lose out on your sport, or you lose out on motherhood or emotional peace because everything is on your back. There’s no perfect solution here. 

"Either way there’s some sort of heartbreak because you’re sacrificing something. Why is it so difficult to recognise that," she said.

Because if they're standing on podiums and winning medals for India, what more can they wan't, right?


This is what she can want: She can want an understanding of her silent sacrifices. She can need someone to reach out to and speak to, to share her personal battles. 

There is an entire facet to a female  athlete’s career that’s vastly and unfairly ignored. 

But in more quantitative terms, the many federations and sports bodies of this great country can give ‘India’s daughter’ the option to become a mother.

  • Provide assistance and clear guidelines for women who choose to go on maternity leave.

  • Provide a clear path for comeback after maternity leave. List out the state-level matches they need to play, trials they need to give, fitness levels they need to show.

  • Provide assistance to travel with their newborn, for the first few years.

  • For veteran athletes, provide financial assistance for fertility treatments and adoption if it's too late in their lives to be able to give birth to a child.


If sports bodies across the world and across sports have taken a step in the right direction then why can't India? Why should India's female athletes continue to be forced to choose between Motherhood and Medals?

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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