By Angela Sheu
In a landmark maternity pay ruling, Icelandic soccer player Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir won her claim against the French soccer club Olympique Lyonnais (Lyon) after they did not pay her full salary during her pregnancy. The International Association Football Federation (FIFA) published the results of the lawsuit on Jan. 17, in which they ruled the club owed her over 82,000 euros. Lyon will face a transfer ban if they fail to pay. The International Federation of Professional Footballers (FIFPRO), the global football players’ union, described the decision as the first of its kind since FIFA’s maternity regulations came into force in January 2021.
Gunnarsdóttir has won the Champions League twice as a midfielder for Lyon before departing after playing at Women’s Euro 2022 with Iceland. Now, she plays with the Italian Juventus Football Club.
“Duty of care” guidelines made the club responsible for following up on her well-being. However, Gunnarsdottir stated, “No one was really checking on me, following up, seeing how I was doing mentally and physically, both as an employee, but also as a human being. Basically, they had a responsibility to look after me, and they didn’t.” She continued, “I was entitled to my full salary during my pregnancy and until the start of my maternity leave, according to the mandatory regulations from FIFA.” Her payments stopped coming through, however, when she was in Iceland. Gunnarsdóttir declared, “These are part of my rights…even by a club as big as Lyon…This is about my rights as a worker, as a woman and as a human being.”
Gunnarsdóttir recognizes the case as more than a personal victory. “It felt like a guarantee of financial security for all players who want to have a child during their career,” she wrote. “I want to make sure no one has to go through what I went through ever again. And I want Lyon to know this is not OK…We deserve better.” FIFPRO congratulated Gunnarsdóttir and stated the “ruling against former club Olympique Lyonnais sent a clear message to clubs and footballers worldwide: The strict application of maternity rights is enforceable.”
Lyon countered they have “always been a forerunner when it comes to women’s football and supporting athletes at every stage of their lives.” They defended that French law prevented them from meeting FIFA requirements. As FIFA fined Lyon for not offering alternative employment, the club wrote, “at the same time the law forbids us to do so in France and the player had expressly asked us to be able to return to live in Iceland, which we accepted.”
(Sources: ESPN, BBC Sport, The Guardian, Players’ Tribune)