A couple of months ago, I wrote a piece highlighting the inconsistencies surrounding the FEI Maternity Leave World Ranking Rules. This was on the back of both Jessica Von Bredow-Werndl (Dressage) and Janne Friederike Meyer (Showjumping), publicly expressing their feelings that rulings surrounding their own maternity leave were unclear, inconsistent and as a whole, unjust. If you haven't read that article, you can do so HERE.
We have now received the news that the FEI has made changes to the existing rules regarding maternity leave in order to introduce further flexibility and give athletes the option of adapting the duration of their maternity leave to their individual situation. The decision was taken by the FEI Board at its last teleconference for 2022 held on 6 December.
The previous minimum period for a medical and maternity leave, which had been included in the Ranking Rules for Jumping, Dressage, and Driving, was six months and the maximum period 12 months.
Following the opinions expressed by athletes wanting the flexibility to return to competition from maternity leave earlier than six months, the Board took the decision to shorten the minimum period to three months, without changing the maximum period, which remains 12 months. In addition, athletes will now have the possibility to come back earlier than originally indicated when they initially requested the leave, which was previously not the case. However, to do so, they will need to give a four-week notice for Dressage and Driving. For Jumping, a 10-week notice is required if riders want to be eligible to receive an invitation under the FEI Online Invitation System, but only four weeks if the athlete intends to participate in the event further to another kind of invitation, such as an OC invitation or a wildcard.
The relevant changes to the wording of the respective Ranking Rules will be published in the Jumping, Dressage, and Driving rules sections on the FEI website.
The Board also approved the incorporation of medical/maternity leave provisions (as updated) into the FEI Endurance and FEI Para Dressage Ranking Rules for the first time. The respective Ranking Rules will be published under the Endurance and Para Dressage rules sections on the FEI website.
The FEI Eventing Committee has considered including medical and maternity leave provisions in the Eventing Ranking Rules but is currently not in favour for risk management reasons.
Maternity and medical leave provisions for Vaulting are currently being examined by the Technical Committee and updates will be provided in due course.
“It is good news that the Board has allowed for greater flexibility regarding maternity leave,” FEI Secretary General Sabrina Ibáñez said. “The FEI was one of the first international sports organizations to introduce provisions for maternity leave in April 2010 and we remain committed to protecting the welfare of our athletes. These rules had been first put in place for Jumping and were gradually extended to Dressage and Driving. This had been done in order to allow athletes, who have had a baby, not to lose all their Rankings points while off the circuit.
“The FEI has listened to the riders who have expressed the desire to have the option of returning to competition earlier than six months and the FEI Board is very much in favour of supporting athletes wishing to achieve the best possible balance between family life and a high level sports career. The Ranking Rules in all the FEI disciplines are living documents and we will keep on reviewing the maternity and medical leave provisions to make sure they remain relevant and fair.”
These are huge steps in the right direction and it is brilliant to have seen athletes and organisations come together, take on board opinions and make amendments accordingly. Are the rules exactly where they need to be? No. There is still quite a ways to go for the gaps to be filled and for sports to have Justice, Fairness and Equity for all.
It's not perfect. It's improvement. It's the beginning.
Sarah Elebert x