You may not have heard of Allyson Felix, but start paying attention.
The 33-year old American athlete was just crowned the most decorated runner in the world after winning a gold at the mixed 4x400m relay at the IAAF World Athletics Championships, Doha. She now holds the record for the most gold medals in track and field world championships, beating Usain Bolt.
Felix had already won many prestigious accolades, including nine medals spread across four Olympic games.
Not even a year ago, Felix battled a difficult pregnancy to deliver a daughter via emergency C-section. Despite this, she is back on the Olympics team and is preparing for the Tokyo Olympics, which will take place in the summer of 2020.
In August this year, Felix fought for female athletes across the globe by battling Nike on its discriminatory policy regarding its sponsors. Nike’s policy meant that pregnant athletes and new mothers were paid far less than their counterparts. Felix, who was a Nike sponsor, shared that Nike was to pay her 70% less due to the fact that she was a new mother. Along with a group of other female athletes, Felix successfully ensured that Nike amended this policy. The new policy states that Nike sponsors will not be financially impacted for at least 18 months after the start of pregnancy.
Felix’s win is significant in the larger political landscape, with women in various sports fighting for equal pay. One of the most prominent battles has been that of Megan Rapinoe and her team. They shed light on the unfair pay gap between the men and women’s football team before and during the World Cup title in 2019.
It is an open secret that women athletes and sportspersons are given much lower pay and praise than their male counterparts, regardless of how accomplished they might be. This pay gap persists across most professions, but is particularly pronounced in the sporting world. Likewise, pregnancy-based discrimination is prevalent in most fields. For most working women, pregnancy means the end of a hard-won career, or at least, a significant slowdown in their journey to the top.
Allyson Felix’s high-profile victory with Nike gives hope to women all over the world. Although Felix is an exceptionally talented, decorated athlete – she won her first Olympic medal at age 18 – her work on the gender pay gap is a step forward for all mothers. Felix’s spectacular win at Doha and other venues has shown that pregnancy hasn’t affected her performance on the track. While Felix admits that getting back her former level of fitness has been harder than she thought, she’s proving that she can do it, and will no doubt come back with at least one gold from the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.
The privilege of starting a family while maintaining a career has always belonged to men – not by accident, but because of policies like Nike’s. It’s time that this started changing, and Allyson Felix’s activism is a step in the right direction.