Serena backs Nike after maternity pay controversy

Paris (AFP) –


Serena Williams backed her sponsor Nike on Monday after controversy over the sporting goods giant's maternity policy, saying that "it's about learning from mistakes".

The 23-time Grand Slam champion has been the face of a Nike advertising campaign telling women to "dream crazier".

The company has reportedly said it will change its policy of cutting female athletes' pay during and after pregnancy, after being widely criticised, including by American track and field star Allyson Felix.

"I'm glad that statement was made, and I know that herefore and going forward, they're doing better," Williams said after her French Open first-round win over Russian Vitalia Diatchenko in Paris.

"That's what it's about. It's about learning from mistakes and doing better."

According to the New York Times, Nike plans to waive performance-pay reductions for 12 months for athletes who decide to have a baby.

The 33-year-old Felix had spoken out after US team-mates Alysia Montano and Kara Goucher levelled similar allegations against Nike as part of an investigation by the Times.

"They told stories we athletes know are true, but have been too scared to tell publicly: If we have children, we risk pay cuts from our sponsors during pregnancy and afterward," wrote Felix, who gave birth to a baby girl in December.

The New York Times reported that Williams' contract had been kept intact when she was pregnant with her daughter Alexis Olympia, while other women saw their pay cut in similar situations.

But the 37-year-old Williams said that it was understandable it took Nike time to embrace change.

"I feel like as time goes on, as technology changes and as, you know, the world changes, people realise that we have to change our policies," she said.

"And I think that Nike wanted to do that, and they started doing that. And so I think they made a really bold statement by doing that with me, and I think they're going to -- I know, actually, that they're going to continue to make that statement."