With overseas fans barred from Olympics, new moms ask: what about my baby?

US soccer player Alex Morgan and her daughter Charlie
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Since giving birth in May 2020, U.S. women’s soccer star Alex Morgan has been able to bring her daughter Charlie on the road.

“It’s important to allow mothers the option to have their kids with them while they compete. I’ve been lucky to be able to do that every single camp,” Morgan said in a U.S. soccer media call earlier this month.

But Morgan is currently unclear on whether Charlie will be able to join her at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

In March, it was announced that – due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic – overseas spectators won’t be allowed to travel to Japan for the Games. “We share the disappointment of all enthusiastic Olympic fans from around the world, and of course the families and friends of the athletes, who were planning to come to the Games,” International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said in a press release.

While Morgan says she understands the decision, she is uncertain about what it will mean for her family given their specific circumstances.

“I have not been given more information than what everyone else knows,” the 2012 Olympic gold medalist explained. “I’m just still very hopeful that I’ll have my daughter with me, [and someone] who will be able to watch her during training and games.”

Morgan continued: “It’s important to allow mothers the option to have their kids with them while they compete… if a child is under one or two, they might still be breastfeeding, so that’s a huge piece of it.”

The needs of moms – especially those with very young children – aren’t always top-of-mind when event organizers are making decisions about accommodations.

This issue came into full display at the NCAA women’s basketball tournament last month when it was revealed that children – including nursing infants – counted against each team’s 34-person travel party. That decision left some coaches in a tough spot, trying to decide whether to bring their very young children or additional support staff.

During the NCAA championship game between Stanford and Arizona, ESPN’s Holly Rowe drew attention to the needs of working mothers. When Arizona head coach Adia Barnes – who traveled to San Antonio with her six-month-old daughter Capri – was delayed coming out of the locker room at halftime because she was pumping, Rowe explained the situation to viewers and then added, “Let’s normalize working mothers and all that they have to do to make it happen.”

Six-time Olympic gold medalist Allyson Felix – who gave birth to her daughter Cammy in November 2018 – has also helped elevate this conversation. In 2019, Felix wrote an op-ed for New York Times about her struggle to secure maternity protections when she was negotiating her contract with Nike.

While Felix says her family will adjust to whatever the rules are, she hopes that organizers are taking working mothers into consideration. “I would be most sensitive to moms who are breastfeeding, new moms, moms with very small babies. I know how crucial that is,” she explained during the Team USA virtual media summit earlier this month.

One of those mothers with a very small baby is marathoner Aliphine Tuliamuk.

After the Olympic postponement was announced, Tuliamuk – who qualified for the U.S. Olympic team in February 2020 – decided to reassess her family planning timeline. She gave birth to her first child, daughter Zoe, in January.

“I definitely hope that they will let [my partner] Tim and my daughter be [at the Olympics],” Tuliamuk said last Thursday while promoting her new sponsor Gatorade Endurance. “There’s absolutely no way I’m going to be able to perform if she’s not there.”

Morgan feels similarly. “It’s incredibly important to feel supported as a mom. I hope that I continue to feel that way leading into the Olympics – and at the Olympics.”

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