For athletes who make it to the Olympics without a large corporate sponsor behind them like Nike or Tissot, the games are an expensive and nearly impossible journey, especially for athletes with children. Olympic track and field star Allyson Felix is looking to amend that issue with the help of one of her sponsors, Athleta, who recently added Simone Biles to its talent roster. According to Fast Company, Feliz, Athleta, and Billie Jean King’s Women’s Sports Foundation have teamed up to create a “$200,000 grant aimed at covering childcare costs for professional athletes competing during 2021.” The absence of a reliable childcare infrastructure in the United States is being put on display by a corporation’s attempt at a marketing band-aid, and with the world watching.
Athletes interested in Athleta’s new grant will have to apply through the Women’s Sports Foundation for consideration and if chosen will receive $10,000 towards childcare costs. In total, only 20 women can receive a grant and men are not eligible (probably because Athleta doesn’t sell men’s clothes). Although men are more likely to have big-time sponsors depending on their sport, many men who go to the Olympics are unrepresented and their families are left to manage childcare on top of any other training and living expenses. The grant is also specifically for “females” as is written on the application page, a stipulation that is particularly concerning considering how strictly the International Olympic Committee has been monitoring women and their hormones. Grant recipients must also agree to media opportunities related to the grant and provide “testimonials about the importance of child care funding and the challenges of combining competitive sports and motherhood.” All of this would be on top of the strenuous press obligations placed on Olympic athletes, who are also being quarantined away from their families in order to compete at this year’s cursed Tokyo Olympics.
The last summer Olympics were held in Rio in 2016 and the United States sent over 500 athletes to compete. There were 294 women. The final tally for women at this year’s Olympics is not yet complete, however, if the number is anywhere close to 294, then 20 available slots for those who need childcare isn’t meeting full potential need.
So far, nine women have been announced as recipients of the grant, and among their ranks is Gwen Berry. While this kind of money is a boon to women with children or who are planning to have children, it’s almost fully out of reach for any young athletes who might find themselves in the same position. According to the grant’s information page, “Athletes applying for the grant are responsible for checking the financial aid regulations of the NCAA or sports organization governing their current or future high school, college or university to avoid jeopardizing their eligibility for sports participation.” Depending on their governing body, young athletes who receive money related to sports participation are ineligible to play at the collegiate level and if they can’t play, their scholarships vanish overnight.
Of course, this particular issue is not the fault of the Women’s Sports Foundation or Athleta but another symptom of the larger sports industrial complex which treats women athletes, in particular, as disposable.
“These grants are about showing the industry that all mom athletes need this same comprehensive support to be able to participate in their athletic endeavors,” Felix told Fast Company. She’s right; athletes, just as any other working mother, need support in order to pursue their careers. But once the Olympics are over and the $200,000 have been allocated to the 20 “females” who were able to best demonstrate financial need, what’s left? These women will be returning to the exact same struggle they had before they flew to Tokyo.