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26 April 2012
The choice is up to you
Pregnant? That's fantastic. Active sport participant? Great. But should you stay active throughout your pregnancy? What are the legal implications for you, your child and your club?
Pregnancy once signalled the end of a woman's sporting career but, in recent years, attitudes have changed. For proof look no further than the London Olympics where 29-year-old Malaysian shooter Nur Suryani Mohamed Taibi will compete despite being eight months pregnant.
We've certainly come a long way, but the fact that Suryani's story is international news is an indication that this issue remains contentious.
We all know that physical activity is good for all women and pregnancy should not be a barrier to participation. But what about a club's 'Duty of Care'? And how much responsibility rests with the pregnant woman?
What does the law say?
Federal, state and territory legislation in Australia make discrimination due to gender or pregnancy unlawful and sport is no exception. Therefore, a ban on pregnant women's participation in sport may contravene anti-discrimination laws and a participant who feels that they have been discriminated against due to their pregnancy has the right to lodge a complaint against the banning organisation.
On the flip side, if an organisation is seen as not having taken all reasonable steps to prevent a pregnant woman from being injured, it could be found vicariously liable for the situation.
And just to complicate things further, if a woman chooses not to disclose her pregnancy to club administrators, the liability for injury to herself or her unborn child may rest with her.
What should sporting clubs do?
Preventing a pregnant woman from participating in sport may be illegal but clubs and sporting organisations have a 'Duty of Care' to all members, athletes and players, including an unborn foetus. So what steps should be taken to protect pregnant mothers and their unborn children while also limiting a club's liability?
• Avoid providing advice to pregnant participants or even issuing guidelines on the health risks of participating. Doing so could put both staff and organisations at risk of legal action. Instead, encourage each woman to make her own informed decision in consultation with a health professional.
• Make sure the club's public liability insurance, professional indemnity insurance, and directors' and officers' insurances are current and do not contain exclusions for pregnant participants.
• Policies should be put in place to ensure the club's readiness to address issues as they arise. These documents should clearly outline the club's position on pregnancy in sport and explain the relevant procedures. Play by the Rules has a Member Protection Template that includes a clause dealing with pregnancy.
• If the participant chooses not to disclose her pregnancy to club officials, the liability for any injuries sustained by her or her unborn child is likely to rest with her.
You're pregnant and want to keep playing. What should you do?
• Before making a decision, get expert medical advice. Talk to your doctor and get a clear picture of the risks, particularly as they relate to your sport. Continue to review your training and competitive program with your doctor on a regular basis.
• Talk to your coaches and other club officials about your pregnancy, and if activities can be modified to ensure the safety of you and your unborn child.
• Don't take unnecessary risks and be aware of changes in your physical condition and ability then adjust your level of activity accordingly.
• Watch for warning signs, such as bleeding or abdominal pain, and see a doctor immediately if these occur.
• Ensure you have adequate insurance cover.
• Consider passing on details of your doctor, next of kin, any allergies, etc. to a coach or fellow player to use in case of emergency.
It is important for everyone to remember that each person, each pregnancy and each sport is different, which means the guidelines provided here can only be general in nature. Sporting organisations should seek independent legal advice and pregnant athletes must consult a medical professional before making any decisions about their continued participation in sport.
For further information, Sports Medicine Australia have developed a range of resources for active women available at: