In a landmark contract reform, professional female footballers in England will be covered for maternity and long-term sickness.

Players will now be guaranteed at least 14 weeks of paid maternity leave, with eight weeks paid at two-thirds of their salaries, under the new player contract agreed upon by the Football Association and the Professional Footballers’ Association.

Previously, players at the 24 clubs in the Women’s Super League and Women’s Championship were provided maternity cover at the discretion of individual clubs as the clause was not specifically included in their regular contracts.

In the case of male players, it was a statutory entitlement under employment law and they held the right to request paternity leave which the teams had to accommodate if they were presented in writing.

After convening a debate in parliament on women’s experiences playing football in England, Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott lauded the move as a “great step forward.”

The experiences of female players were discussed in the Westminster Hall debate in light of Coventry United’s near-collapse, where the squad was told their contracts had been terminated and the club would be going into voluntary liquidation two days before Christmas, highlighting the precarious nature of the standard player contracts.

Although Elliott suggested in her tweets that there still remains a lot to be done, she stated that the Women’s World Cup and Euros are also likely to be included in the list of events in the near future.

This move also follows Fifa’s announcement in November that stated that they would introduce a set of minimum rights for contractual players throughout the world, with penalties for clubs that discriminate against players during pregnancy, including fines and transfer bans.

(With inputs from PA and The Guardian)