For young athletes who love being active, menstruation becomes a barrier for them to pursue everyday sports. Menstruation is still considered a taboo in our society; several studies reveal that one-fourth of girls around the world drop out of sports during the adolescent period because of the onset of mensuration. In the past, women athletes who felt they could power through, powered through. If they wanted to postpone their periods, they did. Some trained and competed on their periods even if they were feeling unwell because the alternative was telling their coaches they were suffering from ‘ladies problem’. A report in The Telegraph talks about the anxiety women athletes’ face during menstruation and how conversations around periods are still considered taboo in sports.
The report mentions that dealing with female athletes’ periods has been a taboo topic, citing a National Health Service research from 2015. While 55 per cent of female athletes stated that periods negatively impact their training and performance, only 22 per cent actually “sought medical help” for cases of heavy menstrual bleeding.
In June this year, when the Indian and England women cricket teams were playing a Test match at the Bristol County Ground, almost half the English team and at least one batter in the Indian team were menstruating, the report revealed. “Literally on the second day, one of the Indian batters had to go off for that reason. I think in the week leading up, everyone was working out whether they were going to come on or not. For a lot of us, being on while wearing whites for a Test was quite a daunting prospect — there was an awful lot of anxiety around it,” England opener Tammy Beaumont said. Beaumont further revealed that in preparation for the Test, they were offered tranexamic acid, a clotting medication that reduces the volume of menstrual bleeding, and mefenamic acid, an anti-inflammatory pain-relieving aid. However, she did not end up taking them due to the potential side effects of migraines, a condition she struggles with when menstruating. Beaumont and the England & Wales Cricket Board have tried to fight this stigma through the establishment of a women’s health group, headed by Dr Thamindu Wedatilake. “There is not always the same breadth of research across women’s sport as there is in men’s, so it’s important that we talk to the athletes and tailor our approach to ensure they’re as well supported and provided for as possible,” the report quotes Dr Wedatilake.
In India, conversations around menstrual cycle weren’t even considered, women’s athletes wouldn’t even discuss it with their coaches. That is slowly changing. The women’s hockey team is expected to update a Google document each day. One of the questions is, ‘was today your first day of periods?” The completed form is accessed by Wayne Lombard, the side’s scientific advisor. They are also actively encouraged to keep track of it through various period trackers apps on their phones. If they can’t get the hang of technology, they are asked to put tick marks on a calendar in their dorm rooms. Neha Aggarwal, head of partnerships and communications at Olympic Gold Quest (OGQ), one of several bodies established to help India’s athletes excel said, “We were tracking periods of athletes. We work closely with our nutritionists and sports sciences team. There is a certain level of trust, we are able to help them manage periods.”
Speaking to the New Indian Express, Saumya Khullar, who works with the Boxing Federation of India (BFI) said, “We need to sensitise not just the male coaches but the whole ecosystem around athletes. It’s a normal physiological phenomenon that an athlete is going through every month so we cannot ignore basic physiology. There are places where it’s still considered taboo but athletes are becoming a lot more aware themselves and are speaking up.”