When runner Allyson Felix goes to Tokyo to compete in the Olympics, she will be a six-time gold medalist as well as a fierce champion of athlete mothers.
Felix called on her then-sponsor Nike in May 2019 for cutting her salary after the birth of her daughter Camryn. Now she’s advocating for childcare help for mothers as they train and compete for the Olympics and beyond.
“When I think about the world Cammy will grow up in, I don’t want her — or any other woman or girl — to have to fight the battle I fought,” Felix, 35, told CNBC in an email.
She has partnered with her sponsor, Gap’s Athleta, and Women’s Sport Foundation to provide $200,000 in scholarships to professional mother athletes who travel to competitions. The program recently announced the first nine recipients, six of whom will head to Tokyo next week for the 2021 Games. They will each receive $10,000 to spend on childcare.
“It’s very difficult to strike a balance between being a mother and being a professional athlete, and the reality is that it takes a certain level of financial support and security to be able to do it,” Felix said.
Finding her voice
After having her daughter in late 2018, she felt pressured to get back to form as soon as possible, Felix wrote in the 2019 New York Times. Her contract with Nike had expired and the company wanted to pay her 70% less. than her previous agreement, she said.
“There has always been a silence and fear around motherhood in sports,” she recalls. “I remember feeling like I had to choose between this sport I love and my family.”
Shortly after Felix spoke out, Nike changed its policy to guarantee that a pregnant athlete’s pay cannot be reduced for 18 months, from its 2018 policy of 12 months.
“We are always learning and growing how to best support our female athletes,” Nike said in a statement to CNBC.
“We are proud to have a strong roster of female athletes and Nike is committed to continue to champion, celebrate and invest in them.”
However, Felix signed with Athleta in July 2019. The support from her new sponsor has really made a difference, including allowing Camryn to accompany her when she competes, Felix said.
“The only way we’ll see real change is if we all learn to raise our voices and ask for what we need,” says Felix, who recently launched her own shoe brand Saysh.
Lack of affordable childcare
Other companies have also started to pay more attention to childcare issues, especially after the pandemic exposed the unequal burden on working mothers.
A study earlier this year by McKinsey & Company pointed to the lack of affordable health care that many working parents face. Of those with incomes less than $50,000 and children at home, only 39% said they could afford childcare.
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On the public front, the Biden administration has pushed for an investment in childcare, including federal funding to help low- and middle-income families afford quality care.
When it comes to Olympic athletes who are in Tokyo, they also face the added burden of not being allowed to bring their children to Japan. The Games do not allow international guests, but in June the organization made an exception for children who are breastfed by their mothers.
Therefore, the $10,000 grant is a lifeline for volleyball player Lora Webster, who will compete in the Paralympics. As a mother of three, Webster does much of her workouts at home so she doesn’t incur childcare costs. When she travels, she hires a hodgepodge of babysitters to cover her husband’s workday.
Now she can fly over relatives from Arizona and Italy to help while she’s in Tokyo. She is also looking for extended summer camps for her children.
“Not only has this scholarship given us financial support, but it has also given me the peace of mind to know that while I am halfway around the world, my family will receive consistent and reliable assistance to get them through my absence,” she said. . .
For Felix, the fight has just begun. As she has shared her experiences, she hears similar experiences back.
“It’s not just in sports either — it’s across the board,” she said.
“There is still a very long way to go.”
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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in acorns.