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Janne Friederike Meyer-Zimmermann on the ranking rules’ maternity leave regulations: “Women should be able to make their own decisions”

Tuesday, 21 June 2022
Interview

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ.
“It is a small rule change that is needed, but it would make a huge difference for all pregnant riders,” Janne Meyer-Zimmermann tells WoSJ. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

After giving birth to her first child in January 2022, Germany’s Janne Friederike Meyer-Zimmermann wanted to make a return to international competition in March. However, due to regulations in the Longines Ranking Rules, the 41-year-old was faced with a choice: Compete and lose all her previous ranking points, or keep 50% and wait for the mandatory six-month maternity leave period to end. “Some say this rule protects women, but I think it is a punishment,” Meyer-Zimmermann tells World of Showjumping. “Any female rider wanting to get back in the saddle earlier than what the rule allows, will lose her world ranking points.”

The Longines Ranking counts a rider’s thirty best results in ranking classes over a twelve-month period. As regulated in article 3 of the rules for the Longines Ranking, a rider can request a pregnancy, or a medical, leave: “During the period which an Athlete has officially ceased to compete due to pregnancy or a medical condition, they will retain 50% of the Longines Rankings points earned from the corresponding month of the preceding year until he/she recommences competing internationally. The minimum length of time for which an Athlete may be granted a maternity/medical leave is six months; if the maternity/medical leave lasts less than six months, no points will be retained from the corresponding month of the preceding year. The maximum length of time an Athlete may benefit from a maternity/medical leave of absence at one time is twelve months. During the period in which an Athlete is on maternity/medical leave, they may not compete in international or national Competitions; the FEI will inform the Athlete’s NF accordingly. The Athlete concerned must inform the FEI Jumping Director when they resume international participation.”

Some say this rule protects women, but I think it is a punishment

Meyer-Zimmermann decided to start her maternity leave after the CSI event in Hagen in September last year. “I decided that Hagen would be my last show, and we e-mailed the FEI to inform them about my decision,” she explains. “The FEI responded and gave us a suggestion of a date they would use, which our office accepted. However, we only realized later that this date was a week after Hagen – it was our mistake, as we did not double check. However, during my pregnancy I didn’t give this any thought.”

In March, Meyer-Zimmermann wanted to return to competition at the Mediterranean Equestrian Tour in Oliva. “After the birth of our son Friedrich, I quickly felt well enough to ride, so I wanted to start competing again,” Meyer-Zimmermann explains. “I thought it would be a good start in Oliva, with small classes outdoors so I made a plan with my sponsors and horse owners. However, shortly ahead of the show we realised that I could not make entries so we asked the FEI to unblock me in their database. I was then told that my six months of maternity leave were not over. I was informed that I could compete in Oliva, but if I did so, I would lose all my previous world ranking points.”

I don’t want to have anyone telling me when I can or cannot ride, unless it is my doctor

“I felt the situation was unfair,” Meyer-Zimmermann says. “The first week in Oliva I only did training rounds, but the second week I already wanted to show my horses. As the days went by, I got more and more frustrated as the only reply from the FEI was that ‘the rules are the rules’. As I thought it was really essential for me and my horses to begin competing again, I decided to compete in Oliva – and lost all my previous ranking points.”

“I made the decision to compete and lose the points as I felt it was more important to get going again – also, I don’t want to have anyone telling me when I can or cannot ride, unless it is my doctor,” Meyer-Zimmermann says. “Looking back, after having good results in Hagen, Redefin and Hamburg, I am super happy with my decision. For me, to have good rounds in Oliva and already jump the Grand Prix there with a nice result was crucial for the following shows. It was important to have this time in Oliva and bring the horses slowly back from 1.20m to 1.45m level.”

It is a small rule change that is needed, but it would make a huge difference for all pregnant riders

When Meyer-Zimmermann shared her experience on social media, many reached out to her questioning why such a rule is in place. “When I started my maternity leave, I was ranked 107 on the world ranking and with 50% of the points I dropped to 177. Losing all the points, I dropped down to 270,” she explains. “The situation is of course totally different from rider to rider. During my pregnancy, we still lived with the Covid-19 pandemic, with less big shows in the calendar, but imagine you are pregnant during the high season! However, the whole issue is not about my situation. I have gotten the chance to compete at many good shows straight away after my maternity leave, because we have had several 3*, 4* and 5* events in Germany. But if you don’t have those kind of shows in your home country; then you have no chance to catch up again.”

“It is a small rule change that is needed, but it would make a huge difference for all pregnant riders,” Meyer-Zimmermann continues. “The idea that you keep 50% of the points is great, but in my opinion, the time aspect is a personal choice for each female rider out there. I think it is totally wrong to be forced to plan your career and job based on this rule. I was so lucky; I had a healthy child, and I felt good physically. Also, this is not a hobby for me, it is my job. I think it is so important that every woman can go at her own pace; this decision should be left to each individual. I believe that every woman should have the chance to make decisions for herself. This is only about opening up the time limit; it is not even that I ask to keep more of the points.”

I believe that every woman should have the chance to make decisions for herself

Following this experience, Meyer-Zimmermann has created a group named #EqualEquest. "It's an initiave for more equal opportunities in equestrian sports, asking for more flexibility and self-determination for women in top-class sports to avoid gender-based disadvantages, no loss of points in case of early re-entry after maternity leave and wildcards for female riders based on the ranking position before maternity leave," Meyer-Zimmermann explains.

“In my case, I hope I will be good enough to earn back the points I have lost,” Meyer-Zimmermann concludes. “However, this is not the main issue – my message is that the rule needs change so that the next rider on maternity leave can start competing again whenever she feels like it. We live in different times now; women want to make their own decisions when it comes to their careers. We should not be punished if we want to return to competition earlier than six months after going out on maternity leave.”

 

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