US track star Alysia Montaño, who famously took on Nike and Asics for discriminating against female athletes, has signed a sponsorship deal with a New Zealand company, Cadenshae.
The seven-times US 800m champion and two-times Olympic medalist had been in the midst of negotiations with two other companies when Cadenshae, a maternity active wear company based in Whangarei, contacted her. She says the synergy between her work as an activist for women's rights and the ethos behind Cadenshae was so perfect, she couldn't refuse.
"We 100 per cent matched top to bottom," Montaño says.
Montaño has rocked the sporting world by calling to task high profile companies Nike and Asics for failing to offer fair and just maternity coverage for female athletes.
In a video and article published in The New York Times that went viral in May, Montaño said, "The sports industry allows for men to have a full career. When a woman decides to have a baby, it pushes women out at their prime.
"Stop treating our pregnancies like injuries."
Montaño's outrage was sparked in 2013. With her contract with Nike coming to an end, she asked the company what would happen if she got pregnant. The answer was, 'Oh, we'll just pause your contract and stop paying you until you return.'
Montaño says, "I was shocked and I remember thinking, 'I've got to get out of here'."
She went on to sign a sponsorship deal with Asics and became pregnant with her first child, Linnea (now five), even continuing to compete at eight months pregnant.
But Montaño recalls, "They loved marketing 'the pregnant runner' – until they didn't."
Asics threatened to reduce her pay by 50 per cent because her performance dropped during her pregnancy. It was only due to a loophole in her contract that Montaño was able to fight their decision.
Montaño, 33, is now six months pregnant with her third child and says it was when Asics showed her the same treatment as Nike that she realised she had nothing to lose in speaking out - even her health insurers had bailed on her for a drop in performance during pregnancy.
"This is 2019, is no one else talking about this?" she says down the phone to Now To Love.
"You see men go on to have children in the middle of their career and there are no repercussions for them. They get to enjoy their career and they get to enjoy their children.
"This is what it looks like for a woman in the same career path to start a family.
"We see our men continuing to climb and the women just continue to suffer. The time is now that we talk about how we need a working environment where we continue to thrive and we're supported."
Montaño says she's been thrilled to see that speaking out has begun to make a difference.
"Companies don't want to be associated with discriminatory behaviour, so I had a bunch of companies... approach me and say we've never penalised our athletes for sickness or injury but we want to make it very clear, how can we do better?
"Companies have tried to figure out how to make changes.
"Asics have not stepped up and have not said a single thing [in response to me]. Nike has made amendments to their contract, however I still don't think this is enough. The wording [they've introduced] is 'may not'. It's still saying maybe we're going to...
"I believe the conversations for female athletes are easier. I would love to know how other women with children are panning out with Nike. It would be nice to hold them accountable to honouring and respecting and not discriminating against women athletes."
In the meantime Montaño is thrilled to have found such a symbiotic sponsor in Cadenshae.
"My activist work is my goal right now.
"Cadenshae want to support communities; their bottom line is about supporting mothers. This is in line with everything I want.
"This is a meshing; this just fit like no other."
Cadenshae designs maternity activewear for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and also campaigns for equal rights for women, particularly pertaining to maternity based issues.
Founder Nikki Clarke says Montaño's fearlessness in speaking out about maternity pay inspired her to reach out to her.
"I have followed Alysia's story since the get go. The more it went on, the more I knew I had to get in touch with her.
"After our first meeting, I wanted nothing more than to support her on her quest."
This is the first time Cadenshae has sponsored an athlete.
Montano is bringing her family to New Zealand this summer to meet Nikki and her family in person.
She and her husband honeymooned in New Zealand in October 2011 and she says she can't wait to return.
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