Jan Friedrich Mayer Zimmermann angry. Since she did not maintain her six-month pregnancy break, all her ranking points were omitted by the FEI. “Up until that rule, I’ve always believed that there is diversity in the sport of equestrianism,” said the 41-year-old. Instead, women’s jobs slow down when they have children. Mayer-Zimmermann does not want to let her case rest. She founded the “EqualEquest” initiative – and she and fellow well-known activists hope that the rule-makers will rethink.
Michaels Bierbaum and Von Prideaux Werndel protested
So far, however, there has been no reaction from the association, says Mayer-Zimmermann in an interview with NDR. “Unfortunately. But I think that with external support, it will be certain that the FEI will reconsider and amend the rules. It will help us all.”
In addition to Para dressage contestant Gianna Riggenbrecht, her supporters include double Olympic dressage champion Jessica von Prideaux Werndel, who will have her second child in a few weeks and is likely to impress herself, and three-time show jumper Meredith Michaels – Mulberry Tree. “This rule was originally devised for them,” says Meyer Zimmermann. “But it wasn’t really thought through to the end.”
Diversity researcher Rulofs: “Hats off” to this commitment
The better known “EqualEquest” becomes in public, the greater the lack of understanding of the questionable set of rules. “Women can’t be penalized for taking a break for the kids and coming back sooner than advertised,” diversity researcher Bettina Rulofs tells NDR. Rather, they deserve credit for shouldering the double burden of raising children and continuing to play sports.
Indeed, it is unacceptable to deny Meyer-Zimmermann the opportunity to continue her sport at the level at which she practiced before the child’s break. “The fact that she should also take part in a campaign until the situation changes – hats off,” said the professor at the University of Sports Cologne.
Equality with a big question mark
In equestrian sports, men and women compete against each other – also in the Olympic Games, which gives the sport a certain special status. However, the equal treatment ends if the rider is pregnant and therefore takes a break. Then she loses 50 percent of her world ranking points, which is the basis for allowing her to start in international tournaments. According to the rules, they are treated like sick or injured riders who could miss competitions for between six and twelve months under the same conditions. This alone is a disadvantage for women, who are neither sick nor injured, according to EqualEquest.
Baby break too short: a ranking crash
But it becomes dangerous if the previously announced period (either six or twelve months) is not adhered to, which Mayer-Zimmermann did when she started in Oliva (Spain) in March – about two months after the birth of her son Friedrich. The upshot: Because it got back in the saddle early, FEI also eliminated the remaining 50 percent of its world ranking points.
“After the crazy point loss, I slipped from 107th in the world rankings to 270th and now I have to slowly fight my way back in,” said the multiple German champion as well as the European and world champion with the German national team. Along with her husband Christoph, she also runs the Waterkant riding stables in Pinneberg.
Disadvantages in sports and economic damage
If Mayer-Zimmermann had maintained the agreed rest period, she would not have been allowed to ride in the German showjumping and dressage derby at Klein Flottbek and would not have been able to finish second with Chismo at the Hamburg Championships. But it would have kept at least half of its points from the previous year. And now she bears not only sports damage, but also economic damage. It concerns, among other things, the potential loss of sponsorship and horse money that the owners made available to the female riding entrepreneur prior to her pregnancy.
Cyclists want flexibility and self-determination
“We would like more flexibility without losing ranking points,” says Meyer-Zimmermann. But, according to the policy paper for the EqualEquest Initiative: “The right to a flexible break for a period of four to twelve months should exist only in the event of pregnancy, and therefore only compensate for the harm to the woman due to gender.” Rulofs also likes to deal appropriately with such resumes and says: “What the sports federations sometimes try to regulate does not correspond to the realities of life, especially to mathematics.”
In short: the gender disadvantages of A-class sport must be abolished. “Women are having children, so we also need a little bit of support when we take a break because of pregnancy,” Meyer-Zimmermann says.