Women’s World Cup Players Aim to Break Down Remaining Barriers for Working Mothers

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 27, 2023; Carson, California, USA; USWNT forward Alex Morgan during Women’s World Cup media day at Dignity Health Sports Park.

AUCKLAND (Reuters) – Soccer-playing mums will be front-and-center when the Women’s World Cup kicks off this week in Australia and New Zealand after tenuous progress since the 2019 tournament for working mothers.

United States co-captain Alex Morgan will be traveling with her three-year-old daughter Charlie.

“I’m really grateful for the women before me that fought for mom athletes,” said Morgan. “It’s still kind of uncharted territory. So we’re still trying to break down some barriers that exist.”

It was not until December 2020 that FIFA approved rules that guarantee maternity leave for professional women footballers, a move the ruling body’s President Gianni Infantino said was essential for the global soccer body to boost the women’s game.

Under the regulations, a player is given 14 weeks maternity leave and clubs are obliged to retain her afterwards and provide medical support.

But while rules can help a player’s career stability, changing the “culture of the sport” is more complicated, said Ali Bowes, a senior lecturer in the Sociology of Sport at Nottingham Trent University.

“Athletes have talked about guilt around trying to pursue athletic pursuits and trying to be a mum, and that involves time away from the kids,” she told Reuters.

“And then the discussion around kids and childcare and guilt and stuff is never talked about (in elite men’s sport) because it’s just that those social conventions around motherhood just really complicate them.”

Bowes co-authored a 2021 study that showed professional women footballers in England also have concerns that they must choose between being a parent and a professional athlete.

“How are they going to be perceived as part of the team?” said Bowes. “How would they be looked upon? Would it be looked like they’re not prioritizing football?”

Iceland midfielder Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir won her claim against former club Olympique Lyonnais in January after she was not paid her full salary during her pregnancy months after helping the team win the Women’s Champions League title.


The World Cup features an array of working parents ready to buck age-old stereotypes, with Jamaica’s Konya Plummer traveling to her second World Cup after giving birth last year when her team mate Cheyna Matthews had her third child.

Midfielder Amel Majri, the first player to report to the France national team with a child after she gave birth in 2022, will be part of the country’s bid for a first World Cup title.

For the United States, mums on the pitch are common. U.S. Soccer counts 17 current and former players who had children in their playing days, beginning in the mid-1990s, and has been offering assistance to mothers for more than 25 years.

Morgan is one of three mums playing for the four-time champions, with defender Crystal Dunn and midfielder Julie Ertz planning to have their young ones with them on the road.

“I wouldn’t have been able to bounce back, come back and feel welcomed back if I didn’t have the resources and the support that I had,” said Dunn, who gave birth in May 2022.

“Announcing that I was pregnant, it wasn’t like, ‘Alright, bye’, fall off the face of the Earth kind of thing. It was like, ‘All right, what do you need? How do we support you?'”