Frequently Asked Questions
These questions and answers can only be used as a very general guide, as each person’s circumstances, and so all cases, are different and must be treated individually from a counselling point of view. This section should not be regarded as legal or medical advice and should not be acted on as such. Professional legal or medical advice should be obtained if further assistance is required.
Q -How can a sporting organisation best protect itself against potential claims for injuries to pregnant women or their foetuses that occur in sport?
Sporting organisations should advise pregnant women who wish to continue playing sport that there may be risks, and that they should obtain medical advice about their health, and about whether to keep playing and for how long. They can do this by including that information in the registration form for that sport or competition, and by displaying a similar notice in a prominent place where participants will see it.
Sporting administrators may ask participants to sign a release that will indemnify the administrator and the sporting organisation if claims are made for injury that occurred during sporting activity. However, the obligation to take reasonable care to prevent injury or harm to participants cannot be removed, and agreements of this sort cannot always protect the organisation or its administrators. Agreements that seek to absolve organisations from liability for injuries in respect of pregnancy alone may be discriminatory too, and could then attract other litigation.
Other ways in which sporting organisations can protect themselves against such claims include ensuring that:
- their insurance is up to date and that it provides appropriate cover
- they have taken reasonable steps to ensure that the rules of the game are followed
- they have taken reasonable steps to ensure that the playing environment is safe for all players
- their policy documents clearly outline their position on pregnancy in sport (for example, a club may have a policy that pregnant women should continue to play if they wish to and if medical advice supports that choice).
Q -Can participation in sport bring on a miscarriage in a pregnant woman?
The advice of Sports Medicine Australia, the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Australian College of Sports Physicians is that it is very unlikely that continuing to participate in most sports could result in a miscarriage. They also consider that it is very unlikely that a sporting injury or a fall could cause a miscarriage, if women follow the advice of their medical advisers, exercise within reasonable limits, and follow the other precautions outlined in the Health and Medicine section following.
Q -If a player in the team I coach became pregnant just before she was to captain a team at the Commonwealth Games, and still desperately wanted to play, but my sport had a ban in place on pregnant participants, would she be able to challenge that ban?
Provided she could show that she was not selected solely on the basis of her pregnancy, and that she was capable of performing the duties of the role adequately, she would be able to challenge the ban. The selection policy of the sport will influence such cases and, if sports’ selection policies do not state clearly that selection is based on merit and ability alone, they could be found to be discriminatory.
Q -Do participants in the team I coach have to tell me when they become pregnant and, if so, when?
Everyone has the right to privacy. Subject to any agreement participants may have made to the contrary, they are under no obligation to inform you, as coach, or other participants about their pregnancy. Participants should consult with medical advisers about the risks and, with their help, make an informed decision about whether to continue playing and when to stop.
However, if they do not tell you or your club that they are pregnant, and they or their unborn children are later injured, they could be found liable for exposing themselves to an avoidable risk. For instance, if a training regime could have been modified to suit their condition and fitness level, but you didn’t know they were pregnant and so didn’t make that modification, they might be liable.
Q -What should I do if a pregnant player wants to continue to play in a team I coach?
Advise the player to obtain medical advice before making the decision about continuing to play. Warn the player that there may be risks and that she should discuss these with her doctor, as well as whether it is safe for her to continue participating and, if so, for how long. Support the player’s right to make her own decisions about her health and her body, and her right to the benefits of an active life.
With the agreement of the woman concerned, advise your sporting organisation or club that you are coaching a pregnant player and ask administrators to ensure that insurance is up to date and provides appropriate cover.
Q -As a coach, what advice can I give to a player in my care who is opposing a pregnant player?
People’s perceptions about pregnancy often lead them to believe that pregnant women are more vulnerable to injury than they actually are, particularly in the first trimester (the first three months) of pregnancy. You, as coach, could recommend that participants obtain relevant medical information about the risks and benefits of playing when pregnant to ensure that they are aware of the facts of the situation. This can apply to anyone engaged in sport or physical activity who has difficulty accepting pregnant women on the field of play: education may be the key to better attitudes.
Q -If a pregnant woman continues to play despite medical advice, what should the sporting organisation do?
The organisation should counsel her about obtaining and acting on appropriate medical advice. It may also recommend that she use an independent doctor, not the club doctor, to avoid a potential conflict of interest and to prevent the club taking on additional responsibilities for the participant. Administrators should ensure that all insurance is up to date and provides appropriate cover. If she continues to play despite medical advice to the contrary, then the organisation may have to consider its position and seek legal advice.
Administrators, officials and coaches should not give medical or legal advice themselves.
Q -Should an organisation formalise its guidelines about pregnancy in sport by having women sign a disclaimer, release or indemnity if they wish to continue to play while pregnant?
It is a good idea from a legal perspective. The more the organisation does to protect itself and its participants, the more likely it is to avoid liability. Administrators should obtain legal advice about the form and wording of documents to be used for these purposes.