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High riders name for modifications to FEI maternity depart guidelines

  • Calls for changes to the FEI maternity leave rules have been amplified in the wake of high profile cases in 2022.

    Campaign group EqualEquest is pushing for a few simple changes to make the current rules fit for purpose and more flexible.

    World and European team gold medal-winning German showjumper Janne Frederike Meyer-Zimmerman was involved in founding EqualEquest following the birth of her son. She wanted to return to competition in spring 2022, but faced either losing her rankings points that had been frozen under the FEI maternity leave rules – or having to postpone her comeback.

    “Until then I have always practised my sport with the knowledge that men and women compete with each other on an equal footing,” Janne told H&H.

    “Due to the rules it was the first time I felt I was treated unfairly and felt disadvantaged because of my gender.”

    Janne’s return meant she slipped from 107th place in the world rankings to 270th place. If she had been allowed to keep 50% of the points from the previous year, she would have been 177th.

    She added that equal opportunity is the reason why it is so important the FEI maternity leave rules are changed.

    “Same challenge, same chance – this is the core of our demands,” she added. “It’s not about advantages for women, but about rules that prevent discrimination. There is an urgent need for improvement.”

    The FEI does not have provision for maternity leave in all disciplines. In those where it does exist – dressage, showjumping and driving – it falls under maternity and medical leave. In essence, the rules freeze 50% of a rider’s world rankings points for a period of six to 12 months. But there is also dispute about whether the rules mean a rider can waive their frozen rankings points with an earlier return, or if they have to be out for a minimum of six months.

    Olympic dressage champion Jessica von Bredow-Werndl was “denied” permission to return to competition at Ludwigsburg last week, following the birth of her daughter in August.

    Jessica said that she would have assumed she would have lost the relevant frozen ranking points with her competition return in Ludwigsburg, but now she is “not even allowed to start”.

    She said according to the FEI, she is not allowed to return to competition during her maternity leave, adding that she has consulted with the German federation and “we do not share the FEI’s point of view”.

    “Our interpretation of the regulation is that if female athletes apply for maternity leave, the FEI must grant at least six months,” she said. “But it is not a rule that an athlete must take a six-month break.”

    A statement from EqualEquest highlights that the current rules increase the pressure for women to “either not take a break at all or return to top-level sport later than planned”.

    As Jessica pointed out on her social media, if she had not opted for maternity leave, she would have received no provision for a freeze on points at all – even in the event of a longer absence from competition owing to a difficult birth, c-section or similar.

    “You don’t know beforehand how the birth will go,” she added.

    EqualEquest, which lists Jessica as one of its supporters, is asking for riders to have more flexibility on the date they choose to return (while retaining the maximum period points can be frozen under maternity leave rules at 12 months). It is also calling for wildcard entries for international shows, based on a rider’s ranking before they took maternity leave, and parity on maternity leave rules across the disciplines.

    “Equality is a sustainable investment in the attractiveness and diversity of top sport,” Frederice Baack, co-founder of EqualEquest, a communication and equal opportunities expert, told H&H.

    The FEI has said it will undertake a review of the rules and will liaise with riders’ clubs and equestrian stakeholder groups on the subject.

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