Over the weekend, several US runners including Alysia Montaño, Phoebe Wright and Kara Goucher took part in a video for the New York Times (NYT) in which they accused the brand’s sponsorship deals of discriminating against female athletes.
In the video, Montaño – who became the focus of coverage across the world after competing in the 2014 United States Championships while eight months pregnant – said that when she told the firm she was expecting, representatives from Nike said they would pause her sponsorship contract and stop paying her.
The sportswoman also claimed she was forced to train with a brace around her stomach to support her abdominal muscles and ship breast milk from China to the United States during a competition shortly after her daughter was born.
Meanwhile, Goucher said she had to choose between staying with her ill son and training for a half marathon which she had been forced to sign up for three months after she had given birth in order to keep her sponsorship.
“I felt like I had to leave him in the hospital, just to get out there and run, instead of being with him like a normal mom would,” Goucher recalled, while breaking down in tears. “I’ll never forgive myself for that.”
Phoebe Wright, who was a runner sponsored by Nike from 2010 through 2016 added: “Getting pregnant is the kiss of death for a female athlete.
“There’s no way I’d tell Nike if I were pregnant.”
Nike has been contacted for comment, but a spokesperson told Vox it was "common practice in our industry" that "agreements do include performance-based payment reductions".
"Historically, a few female athletes had performance-based reductions applied," the company added.
"We recognised that there was an inconsistency in our approach across different sports and in 2018 we standardised our approach across all sports so that no female athlete is penalised financially for pregnancy."
A 2019 Nike sponsorship contract for track and field athletes, obtained by NYT, stated the sports company had the right to reduce pay "for any reason" if performance-related goals were not met.
In an article to accompany the video, NYT also noted that the four Nike executives who negotiate contracts for track and field athletes were all men.
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