British runner Jo Pavey has revealed Nike stopped her sponsorship money immediately when she told the sportswear company she was pregnant.
The European 10,000m champion told Sky News female athletes were being “punished” by their sponsor for starting a family.
Pavey is the first British athlete to add her voice to a chorus of American runners who say Nike also froze their sponsorship when they became pregnant.
“When I announced I was pregnant my contract was immediately paused,” Pavey said.
“One of the main problems is the target to get the contract back and the timescale. It was the joy of running that kept me going because you think ‘what will, be will be’ and I was focused on being a mum. But you don’t want to feel punished for being pregnant.”
The American 800m runner Alysia Montana became a worldwide sensation when a video of her competing while eight months pregnant went viral online. But now she has revealed that she was fighting behind the scenes to be paid by Nike.
“The greatest disconnect is that they are not backing up what they are preaching, you know,” Montana told CBS.
“They are making this very grand gesture when they make these ads that are moving. ‘Just do it’ is their slogan, but ultimately, behind closed doors, everything that is a dream for women in particular is something that they are basically stuffing you down and saying actually, that’s not really for you, this is for TV.”
Pavey was dropped by Nike as a sponsored athlete shortly after becoming the European 10,000m champion at the age of 40.
But before that she had felt disappointed when the company froze her sponsorship after she became pregnant first with son, Jacob, and then with daughter, Emily.
“It is important for companies to look at messages they are sending out,” Pavey said.
“They are promoting women saying ‘come on, dream your dreams, you can achieve things’.
“But then, when they are under circumstances like becoming a mum, then they are signifying that could end their goals and that is definitely the wrong message.”
Nike used the marketing slogan “dream crazy” when publicising the remarkable comeback of Serena Williams to Grand Slam prominence after the birth of her first child.
The company claims they have now changed their policy on sponsorship for female athletes.
A spokesman said: “Nike is proud to sponsor thousands of female athletes. As is common practice, our agreements do include contractual performance obligations.
“Historically, a few female athletes had reduced payments based on failure to meet their contractual performance obligations.
“We recognised that there was a need for more consistency in our approach and in 2018 we standardised our approach across all sports so that no female athlete is penalised financially for pregnancy.”