NEW YORK • American sporting goods giant Nike, under fire for financially penalising sponsored athletes who become pregnant, is changing its maternity policy.
In an e-mail to the New York Times on Friday, Sandra Carreon-John, a spokesman for the conglomerate, said: "We've recognised Nike can do more, and there is an important opportunity for the sports industry collectively to evolve to better support female athletes."
According to the publication, Nike plans to waive performance-pay reductions for 12 months for athletes who decide to have a baby.
The move comes after Allyson Felix, the only female track and field athlete to win six Olympic gold medals, joined a chorus of critics, writing in the Times that she had been offered a vastly reduced contract after taking time off last year owing to her pregnancy.
The 33-year-old spoke out after American teammates Alysia Montano and Kara Goucher levelled similar allegations against Nike as part of an investigation by the Times.
Felix, who gave birth to a baby girl in December, wrote: "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."
She opted to start a family despite concerns over the renewal of her Nike sponsorship deal that expired at the end of 2017 and a new deal was put forth that was much less lucrative.
The company also baulked at her request for guarantees that she would not be penalised if she performed below her best "in the months surrounding childbirth".
In a memo addressed to Nike employees on Friday, which was reported by both the Times and Bloomberg, vice-president and general manager for global properties Amy Montagne wrote that she was "saddened" to learn of Felix's experience.
She added that "this has been a humbling event" before confirming they were reaching out to sponsored women athletes to advise them of policy changes.
Goucher responded with cautious optimism to the Times report, but said she was waiting to hear from Nike, tweeting: "Really excited about this but genuine question.
"Will Nike stop suspending women without pay or is this just about reductions?"
"I, and the other women I know, were suspended without pay, not reduced. We want to see this policy in writing and then celebrate!"