Every so often in the world of sports, that age-old question rears its ugly head – what’s your policy on people participating when pregnant? For those of us who do sports tagged in the ‘extreme’ bracket, it’s one of the first things people will ask you once they know you’re pregnant. “So you’re giving up X then?”
Roller derby is particularly dogged by this issue because firstly it’s a female-dominated sport played mainly by women, and secondly it’s a contact sport. I’m not about to debate the rights and wrongs or the risks versus rewards of playing when pregnant. That’s not what this piece is about.
What this is about is my own feelings about ‘pregnant skater policies’ and how I think they really go against the grain of a lot of what roller derby stands for. Your mileage may, as ever, vary. But if reading this makes you feel uncomfortable, maybe it’s worth taking time to examine that. Because I’m pretty sure what I’m going to say will make some people feel uncomfortable.
I don’t agree with pregnant skater policies. There’s a whole bunch of reasons why I don’t agree with them, like the fact you can’t make anyone tell you they’re pregnant, so policies are basically unenforceable. Or the fact that not everyone is happy about being pregnant. Or the fact that actually, someone might not even know they’re pregnant. I certainly don’t agree with the argument that ‘I’d feel terrible if I was involved in a play which resulted in harm’ – because frankly I don’t see the difference between that and being involved in a play which led to someone breaking a limb or being paralysed or having a traumatic brain injury. But my over-riding reason is that what pregnant skater policies are essentially saying is ‘we don’t trust you to make decisions about your own body’.
I told you I was going to make some people uncomfortable.
If you feel the need to have in place a pregnant skater policy, you are trying to take control of another person’s decision-making about their body. Before you start saying ‘but what about injuries and stopping people from skating without medical sign-off?’, that’s different. If a pregnant skater doesn’t have medical clearance, then that comes under your health and safety policy or your injured skaters policy, because it’s an insurance issue. And obviously if your insurance policy won’t cover pregnant skaters that takes the decision out of your hands. But if someone has the support of their doctors, and you’re saying that they can’t participate because it makes you uncomfortable to skate with them, what you’re really saying is ‘I don’t trust you to make the right decisions for yourself and your pregnancy’. You’re trying to take control away from them and place it in your hands, because you know better.
And really, roller derby is the antithesis of that. Or at least it should be.