"Before being footballers, we are women. Being a mother changes your life in the way you see things, the way you behave."
Almost two years after having a daughter, in May 2021, Cameroonian defender Claudine Falone Meffometou has no regrets: at 32, she is a regular at Fleury, fourth-placed in the French first division, and is happy.
Between football and motherhood, she chose not to choose, convinced that "today it is possible."
"For a long time, many girls who would have liked to start a family told themselves that their contract was going to be terminated... Most of them waited until the end of their career to have a child.
Today, things are different and that's a good thing," the Cameroonian summarised to AFP.
The defender claims to have had the support of her club, from her pregnancy to her maternity leave, through her fitness period, with an individual programme designed by the physical trainer. In total, she was away from the field for 10 months, but FC Fleury still offered her an extension until 2021.
Gunnarsdottir's case in Lyon
Not everyone has been so lucky in recent years. Iceland's Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir, pregnant in 2021, claimed to have suffered a sharp drop in her salary during her pregnancy and faced reluctance from her club Lyon because of the constraints of a mother's return to competition, such as breastfeeding while travelling.
Thanks to a subsequent ruling by the FIFA Football Tribunal, Gunnarsdóttir was able to recover her unpaid wages after a lengthy legal battle and also won the support of several icons of world women's football, who were surprised that such a situation could arise at Lyon, one of the forerunners of the discipline in Europe.
US star playerMegan Rapinoe, who will win the Golden Ball in 2019, described the French club's behaviour as "disgraceful," noting "the long way to go in terms of culture."
Indeed, in the United States, maternity for female football players has been taken into account for several years with a national protocol signed by the national team and the US federation, which provides for salary support, payment of care costs, etc.
But on a global level, the association between top-level football and motherhood is still extremely rare.
Among the 3,500 women footballers from the major championships questioned in the latest study by the World Players' Union (FIFpro) on this subject in 2017, only two percent had children and of these, only 8% had received a maternity allowance from their clubs or federations.
The issue took on a new dimension in January 2021 with the publication by FIFA of a new regulatory framework that imposes on federations "a minimum period of 14 weeks of paid leave, of which at least 8 weeks must be taken after the birth of the baby," with the obligation to pay the player a minimum of "two-thirds" of her salary.
With the World Cup in the background
Little by little, clubs are adapting their daily operations to the needs of mothers, as in the case of Lyon, who have had to deal with the case of French player Amel Majri, who became a mother last July.
"The club has allowed me to travel [for matches] with Maryam and the nanny. This allows me to be mentally calm and to be able to practice my sport to the full ... And all the 'off' times I have, I can spend with my daughter," she explained to her club's media in January, when she returned to competition.
The French Football Federation (FFF) is currently preparing an arrangement to allow her, if selected, to take her daughter to the World Cup in Australia next summer. Goalkeeper Manon Heil was the first mother to be selected by the 'Bleues,' in the last France squad.
"A few years ago, this seemed so inaccessible to me that it wasn't even talked about, you didn't even think about it," says France international Estelle Cascarino. "From now on, girls who want to be footballers will know that they can get pregnant during their career," she told AFP.
However, the FIFA regulations have yet to be implemented in all countries.