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When Olympic athlete Alysia Montano took part in a race only one month away from having a baby, she became known as “the pregnant runner.” It was 2014 and she went on to win a national championship when her daughter was six months old, and another when she was 10 months old.

But in an opinion piece and video published by the New York Times on Sunday, Montano said when she told one of her former sponsors, Nike, that she wanted to have a baby during her career, the sports giant told her it would pause her contract and stop paying her.

This, she said, is at odds with commercials such as “Dream Crazier,” released by Nike in February, where Nike-sponsored tennis player Serena Williams is praised for “having a baby and then coming back for more,” and in which viewers are told: “Show them what crazy can do.”

Pregnant athlete Alysia Montano at the USA Field and Track Championship on June 26, 2014 in Sacramento, California

Ezra Shaw | Getty Images

Nike has admitted that “a few” female athletes did previously have “performance-based reductions” in their fees, but last year it standardized its approach across all sports “so that no female athlete is penalized financially for pregnancy,” according to a statement emailed to CNBC. It said it is common industry practice for agreements to include performance-based payment reductions, but did not confirm to the Times if its change in approach is a contractual guarantee.

Montano’s article has prompted much debate. Women’s rights campaigning organization Time’s Up tweeted that Nike “should be supporting safe and healthy pregnancies — not pushing people out or slashing benefits.”

Running coach Mario Fraioli called the lack of maternity benefits for women athletes “one of athletics’ dirtiest secrets,” in a tweet.

Meanwhile, Kelly Williams, managing director of consultancy Sports Revolution, believes that because most athletes are self-employed, paid maternity leave is not warranted. “I think there is more of a debate about keeping a ranking than getting paid. I think the movement in women’s sport and focus on equality is absolutely great. But would we give a male athlete maternity leave? … (Women) don’t want to be different, just treated the same (and) we should not notice the difference between athletes,” she said in an email to CNBC.

“I own my own business and if I don’t work, I don’t get paid. I have to budget for babies and I have had three,” she added.

Taking a stand

The controversy also raises the question of whether brands should take a stand on social issues, as Nike has done in its advertising, or have their executives publicize opinions.

“Consumers increasingly expect brands to have a voice in political and social conversations, and gender equality is among the top issues Americans want to see companies support,” according to Jeremy Robinson-Leon, president of New York based PR firm Group Gordon, in an email to CNBC. “However, the public won’t stand for lip service. When a company’s words and actions don’t add up, its reputation will inevitably take a hit.”

A Nike Ad featuring American football quarterback Colin Kaepernick is on diplay September 8, 2018 in New York City.

Angela Weiss | AFP | Getty Images

Nike is not afraid of controversy: Shares in the company fell in September 2018 after it released an ad starring activist Colin Kaepernick. For Simeon Siegel, an analyst at Nomura Instinet, its willingness to make a stand has not dented long-term sales. “Nike has a long history of … controversy for good and bad … and that long history sits side by side with a long history of becoming the largest … apparel (and) footwear brand in the history of time,” he told CNBC by phone.

Ads vs reality

For Robinson-Leon, any company that pushes gender equality in its advertising but behaves differently in private risks its reputation.

“Clearly, a brand like Nike that bills itself as a leader on social issues hurts its credibility by saying one thing publicly and doing another backstage. It’s illogical for the business and a disservice to the intended social impact. And, more broadly, it gives rise to an understandable cynicism on the part of the public that undermines the positive efforts of other responsible businesses,” Robinson-Leon said in an email to CNBC.

Other companies have been tripped up by how their public behavior contrasts with their advertising — United Airlines’ “Fly the friendly skies” was mocked on social media after a man was forcibly removed from a flight in 2017. But almost a year later, parent company United Continental Holdings posted its fifth consecutive year of profits.

Nike and women

“Dream Crazier,” from February, and “Dream with Us,” released on Mother’s Day to promote Nike’s sponsorship of teams playing in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, are part of the company’s strategy to grow its U.S. business by focusing on women.

The debate over maternity pay is not likely to dent sales to women, according to Siegel. “The reality is Nike(‘s)… marketing and their messaging is also inclusive … I believe that as long as they are not putting their head in the sand we are unlikely to see a sales miss,” he told CNBC by phone.

Nike President and CEO Mark Parker speaks during the 2016 Nike New Innovations Debut at Skylight at Moynihan Station on March 16, 2016 in New York City.

Mike Pont | WireImage | Getty Images

Siegel added that Nike has been fast to deal with problems as it became aware of them. A year ago, the company saw an exodus of executives amid accusations of harassment and discrimination, and an apology from CEO Mark Parker who said the company would change its culture.

“Nike, generally speaking, over the past year has actually sought to get ahead of issues presumably as they became aware of them,” Siegel said. “Rather than being called into question and then fixing the business, Nike during the worst of it aired their own dirty laundry. It’s always fair to challenge why there was dirty laundry in the first place, but on a relative scale the fact that the company has moved fast to at least try to make change and correct is worthy of note,” he told CNBC by phone.

“From an investing perspective right now, the company continues to grow healthfully which means from a consumer perspective people are still buying their products en masse.”

A soccer fan grabs a shoe at The Nike Underground, a pop-up experience in downtown Vancouver.

Getty Images

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Hong Kong police briefly turn water cannon on protesters, fire tear gas

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Protesters gather in Kwai Fong in Hong Kong on August 24, 2019.

LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA | AFP | Getty Images

Hong Kong police briefly fired water cannon and volleys of tear gas to force back brick-throwing protesters on Sunday after violent clashes a day earlier during which police also fired tear gas for the first time in more than a week.

At least one petrol bomb was thrown by protesters. The water cannon, which had not been used in years of anti-government protests, soon pulled away.

The Chinese-ruled city’s MTR rail operator suspended some services to try to prevent people gathering but protesters made it to a sports stadium in the vast container port of Kwai Chung, from where they marched to nearby Tsuen Wan.

Some dug up bricks from the pavement and wheeled them away to use as ammunition, others sprayed detergent on the road to make it slippery for the lines of police. Clashes spread in many directions.

Police had warned earlier they would launch a “dispersal operation” and told people to leave.

“Some radical protesters have removed railings … and set up barricades with water-filled barriers, bamboo sticks, traffic cones and other objects,” they said in a statement.

“Such acts neglect the safety of citizens and road users, paralysing traffic in the vicinity,” the statement said.

Activists threw petrol bombs and bricks on Saturday in the gritty industrial district of Kwun Tong, on the east of the Kowloon peninsula.

The vast majority marched peacefully on Sunday.

‘Last Chance’

M. Sung, a 53-year-old software engineer in a black mask emblematic of the many older, middle-class citizens at the march, said he had been at almost every protest and would keep coming.

“We know this is the last chance to fight for ‘one country, two systems’, otherwise the Chinese Communist Party will penetrate our home city and control everything,” he said.

“If we keep a strong mind, we can sustain this movement for justice and democracy. It won’t die,” Sung said.

Protesters say they are fighting the erosion of the “one country, two systems” arrangement under which the former British colony returned to China in 1997 with the promise of continued freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland.

The protests, which started over a now-suspended extradition bill and evolved into demands for greater democracy, have rocked Hong Kong for three months and plunged the city into its biggest political crisis since the handover.

They also pose a direct challenge for Communist Party leaders in Beijing, who are eager to quell the unrest ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on Oct. 1.

Beijing has sent a clear warning that forceful intervention is possible, with paramilitary forces holding drills just over the border.

Transport to the airport appeared normal on Sunday, despite protesters’ plans for a day-long “stress test” of transport in the international aviation and financial hub.

Police said they strongly condemned protesters “breaching public peace” and that 19 men and 10 women had been arrested after Saturday’s violence. More than 700 have been arrested since the demonstrations began in June.

The neighbouring gambling territory of Macau, a former Portuguese colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1999, elected former legislature head Ho Iat Seng as its leader on Sunday – the sole approved candidate.

Ho, who has deep ties to China, is expected to cement Beijing’s control over the “special administrative region”, the same status given to Hong Kong, and distance it from the unrest there.

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US-UK trade deal within a year of Brexit will be tight, UK PM Johnson

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It will be tight to meet the United States’ desire to do a post-Brexit trade deal with Britain within a year, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday.

Johnson, who took office last month, had his first bilateral meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump earlier on Sunday at the G7 meeting in France and the two discussed a range of issues including trade.

In interviews with British television media afterwards, Johnson said the United States wanted to do a deal within a year of Britain leaving the EU on Oct. 31.

“Years and years is an exaggeration, but to do it all within a year is going to be tight,” he told BBC TV.

Johnson also said the chances of Britain agreeing a Brexit deal with the EU were improving but it would be “touch and go”.

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At G-7, Trump says he is not happy about North Korea missile tests

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SAINT-JEAN-DE-LUZ, France — President Donald Trump said Sunday he was not happy after North Korea launched short-range ballistic missiles over the weekend.

“I’m not happy about it but again he’s not in violation of any agreement,” Trump said when asked about the recent string of tests from the North’s Kim Jong Un.

“I discussed long-range ballistic and that he cannot do and he hasn’t been doing it and he hasn’t been doing nuclear testing. He has done short-range, much more standard missiles, a lot of people are testing those missiles, not just him. We are in the world of missiles folks, whether you like it or not,” Trump said.

Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said North Korea’s test was in violation of UN Security Council resolutions.

On Saturday, North Korea fired what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast, the South Korean military said, the latest in a series of launches in recent weeks amid stalled denuclearization talks.

North Korea, the only nation to have tested nuclear weapons this century, spent most of Trump’s first year in office perfecting its nuclear arsenal. The newest member of the world’s exclusive nuclear weapons club has stopped testing of its nukes for now as the U.S. and international community offer the possibility of relief from crippling economic sanctions.

Under the third-generation North Korean leader, the reclusive state has conducted its most powerful nuclear test, launched its first-ever intercontinental ballistic missile and threatened to send missiles into the waters near the U.S. territory of Guam.

Since 2011, Kim has fired more than 90 missiles and had four nuclear weapons tests, which is more than what his father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather, Kim Il Sung, launched over a period of 27 years.

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