World Cup mums balance parenting with football ambitions

By AFP   July 27, 2023 | 12:31 am PT
Jamaican Women's World Cup player Cheyna Matthews tears up when she recalls one of her three little boys saying: "Why are you always gone so long?"

But some players at the tournament in Australia and New Zealand have found a solution to suffering similar anxieties about being apart from their young children for weeks - they have brought them with them.

Midfielder Melanie Leupolz has her infant son and a nanny for the tournament, which will last one month if her Germany side fulfil expectations back home by reaching the final in Sydney on August 20.

Throw in preparations in the build-up and it can be a long trip.

Leupolz left the youngest member of the Germany squad with his nanny for two days at the team base north of Sydney while the team flew to Melbourne, where they opened their campaign with a 6-0 thrashing of Morocco.

"It's quite a challenge. It's draining and takes up a lot of energy," the 29-year-old Chelsea player said in an interview with broadcaster DAZN, reflecting on balancing her playing career with parenting.

"I wanted to show women: Hey, you can do both. That's what drove me."

USAs forward Alex Morgan is among the players with their children in tow at the World Cup. Photo by AFP/Marty Melville

USA's forward Alex Morgan is among the players with their children in tow at the World Cup. Photo by AFP/Marty Melville

In an interview broadcast this week by football's governing body FIFA, Matthews and her Jamaican team-mate Konya Plummer are seen laughing as they look at videos of their children.

But there are tears, too, because they are apart.

"The reason I really push to play soccer is that I want my kid to know I am strong," says Plummer, who has a baby boy.

Smiling no matter what

Several World Cup players have found the best thing is to bring their children with them.

Among them are the United States striker Alex Morgan and Amel Majri of France.

The 34-year-old Morgan, a two-times World Cup winner, had a daughter, Charlie, three years ago.

The little girl will also be with a nanny and even though Morgan hopes to see her daughter "almost every day", she said that team rules are strict, plus there is all the flying about for matches in different cities.

Asked if it was tough balancing her World Cup with being a mum, Morgan said: "It is hard because every day I miss her so much.

"But when she is here I know I am playing two roles - as a mum and soccer player, so it is give and take.

"It is the life of a professional athlete with families," she added.

The midfielder Majri said having small children about the team camp can help bring levity when tensions are high or heads are down.

"A child is only joy and good humor within any group," the 30-year-old told AFP just ahead of the World Cup about having her one-year-old daughter Maryam with the squad.

"Sometimes we are not satisfied with training and we are a little tired, and so when I find my daughter, it gives me a huge energy boost."

Germany forward Laura Freigang agrees that having children around can be a welcome distraction from the pressures of World Cup football.

"It's just funny when you're eating and a serious announcement is made, but then a toddler comes babbling along," she said.

Leupolz also knows that, unlike fans who can be unforgiving in defeat, she will always have a friendly face to return to, no matter what the score.

"Sure, it's super exhausting, but when you come home and get a smile, you know what you're doing it all for," she said.

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