LOS ANGELES • Olympic track and field star Allyson Felix joined a chorus of recent criticism against Nike on Wednesday, accusing the American sporting goods giant of penalising female athletes who give birth.
The only female track and field athlete to win six Olympic gold medals wrote in the New York Times that she had been offered a vastly reduced contract after reducing her schedule last year ahead of the birth of her daughter, Camryn, last December.
The 2012 Olympic 200m champion spoke out after fellow Americans Alysia Montano and Kara Goucher levelled similar allegations as part of an investigation by The Times last week.
Her column read: "They told stories we athletes know are true, but have been too scared to tell publicly: If we have children, we risk pay cuts from our sponsors during pregnancy and afterwards.
"It's one example of a sports industry where the rules are still mostly made for and by men."
The 33-year-old revealed she had decided to start a family last year despite anxiety over talks concerning the renewal of her sponsorship deal which had expired at the end of 2017, with Nike offering her 70 per cent less than before.
While Felix claimed she accepted the new normal "if that's what they think I'm worth now", it baulked at guarantees that she would not be penalised if she performed below her best "in the months surrounding childbirth".
She added: "I wanted to set a new standard. If I, one of Nike's most widely marketed athletes, couldn't secure these protections, who could? Nike declined. We've been at a standstill since."
Felix, who has vowed to try and race in the Tokyo 2020 in what would be her fifth Olympics, said the experience has cast light on how the sports apparel industry treats female athletes.
"This isn't just about pregnancy," she wrote. "We may stand behind the brands we endorse, but we also need to hold them accountable when they are marketing us to appeal to the next generation of athletes and consumers."
Nike last week responded to the criticism by vowing to implement a new policy which standardised the treatment of female athletes during pregnancy while recognising that it "can go even further".
Praising Nike "for seeing that change was necessary", Felix said: "Pregnancy is not messing up. For women, it can and should be able to be part of a thriving professional athletic career, as my teammates have shown and I hope to show, too. I dream of a day when we don't have to fight in order to try."