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Jessica Ennis-Hill Calls On The World Of Sport To Improve The Support Female Athletes Receive Through Pregnancy

jessica ennis hill at laureus awards

Jessica Ennis-Hill has called on the world of sport to radically improve the support female athletes receive through pregnancy.

Ennis-Hill became pregnant with her first child in 2014, two years after winning heptathlon gold at the London Olympics and she has described how she felt there was no roadmap within professional sport for athletes in that situation. 

Ennis-Hill described working with her personal team to adapt a training programme aimed at returning to elite competition, as well as managing professional relationships with sponsors during her pregnancy.

That plan was successful – Ennis-Hill was back on the Olympic podium in 2016 – but she believes pro sport should have support for female athletes who have children baked-in to its structures.

After five-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka announced her own pregnancy at the age of 25, and in the wake of an explosive account by the Champions League-winning footballer Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir of how she was treated during and after pregnancy by her former club, Lyon, Ennis-Hill, a member of the Laureus Academy, believes that elite sport is still not set up to accommodate athletes who decide to have children.

Speaking on the Laureus-produced digital-first content series Spirit of Sport, she said: “I would like to see so much more support for athletes going through pregnancy and post-natal and coming back to their sport. Athletes don’t have to say, ‘I’ve done my career and I’m going to start my family’. You can have the two alongside each other and it can be hugely rewarding, although very challenging.

“There is still a grey area within sport: what support do you have access to when you’re pregnant? How does that change your funding? What kind of maternity package do you have?

More support and awareness around how female athletes navigate themselves through that time is really important.”

In an exclusive and wide-ranging interview as part of Laureus’ ‘Spirit of Sport’, Ennis-Hill spoke about her career on the track and her new role as a tech founder.

  • On London 2012: “To go into the Olympics as the face of the Games – I could never have imagined that. I look back now and think ‘how did it all come together in those two days?’ But it did, and it was an incredible experience.
  • On Allyson Felix: “She is a huge inspiration. I have respect and admiration for the longevity of her career … to start a family and come back at the top of your game is one of the hardest challenges you face as a female athlete and she did that.
  • On the pressures faced by today’s athletes: “Athletes are brands now. You have to be a personality and a face. Some athletes love the commercial side of it, but others just want to focus on training.
  • On her app, Jennis, aimed at educating women about training in synchronicity with the four phases of their monthly hormonal cycle to optimise their performance and health: “There’s a huge gender data gap and women have to listen to their bodies. Athletes need to have more conversations about what we experience as women.
  • On joining the Laureus Academy: “I feel so honoured to be part of an organisation with such incredible sportsmen and women and the ethos of using sport to create change and good in the world is so powerful.