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Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir Wins Maternity Case Against Lyon, Will Be Paid Full Salary

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 17, 2023

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 07: Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir of Juventus Women in action during the UEFA Women's Champions League group C match between Arsenal  and Juventus at Emirates Stadium on December 07, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Filippo Alfero - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images)
Filippo Alfero - Juventus FC/Juventus FC via Getty Images

Soccer player Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir, who currently plays for Juventus, won a maternity pay case against her former club Olympique Lyonnais.

FIFPRO, which is the global football players' union and helped her during the lawsuit process, released a statement Tuesday saying the ruling "sends a clear message to clubs and footballers worldwide: The strict application of maternity rights is enforceable."

FIFPRO @FIFPRO

Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir's landmark ruling against former club Olympique Lyonnais sends a clear message to clubs and footballers worldwide:<br><br>The strict application of maternity rights is enforceable.<br><br>🔗 <a href="https://t.co/SmInzY0xBs">https://t.co/SmInzY0xBs</a> <a href="https://t.co/aXd4zbazFm">pic.twitter.com/aXd4zbazFm</a>

FIFA's Football Tribunal Dispute Resolution Center released its full decision, and ESPN noted Lyon was ordered to pay her full salary of €82,000 plus interest based on rules that were approved by the decision-making FIFA Council in 2020 giving players 14 weeks of maternity leave and requiring proper support from their clubs.

While the club requested the grounds of the decision when the ruling was made in May, it decided not to appeal.

The ruling also determined Olympique Lyonnais did not oblige by the "duty of care" guidelines that called for the team to provide Gunnarsdóttir with alternate employment and routine check-ins on her well-being.

The club released a statement Tuesday saying French law is why it did not meet the requirements in place:

"FIFA has reproached us for not having offered another job to Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir during her sick leave and then her maternity leave when at the same time the law forbids us to do so in France and the player had expressly asked us to to be able to return to live in Iceland, which we accepted.

"We are proud to have had Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir in the workforce of Olympique Lyonnais. Our paths separated for purely sporting reasons."

For her part, Gunnarsdóttir shared a link to her story for The Players' Tribune detailing her entire journey through pregnancy and the birth of her child and the different challenges she faced from the club.

Sara Björk @sarabjork18

This story is bigger than me! It's a wake up call for all clubs and it's a message to all players that if they get pregnant or want to get pregnant during their career they have their rights and guarantees!<a href="https://twitter.com/PlayersTribune?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@PlayersTribune</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/FIFPRO?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@FIFPRO</a> <a href="https://t.co/Rnzj7lua9g">https://t.co/Rnzj7lua9g</a>

"This story is bigger than me," she wrote. "It's a wake up call for all clubs and it's a message to all players that if they get pregnant or want to get pregnant during their career they have their rights and guarantees!"

Her article explained the culture in Europe is for players to not get pregnant during their careers, which contributed to feelings of guilt and "letting people down" even though she was happy to be having a child.

She also made it clear she wanted to become the first person in the club's history to return after pregnancy and play but started growing concerned when she received "just a small percentage from social security" instead of her normal paychecks.

Gunnarsdóttir and her agency wrote formal letters and reached out but were eventually told the club was going by French law and didn't owe her the paychecks.

"If Sara goes to FIFA with this, she has no future in Lyon at all," she was told.

"From the first of April, when I came to Iceland, until August, I didn't hear from anyone in the front office or the coaching staff," she wrote. "I was still in close touch with some teammates, as well as the doctor and the physios, just personally. They were all good friends of mine. But the club never formally reached out. No one checked to see how my training was going, how my pregnancy was progressing."

She attempted to come back after the birth of her child but said she was "treated differently" when she did.

"I was so exhausted from all the fighting," Gunnarsdóttir wrote. "It was clear that, regardless of what was said, the essence was true: As a new mother, I didn't have a future with this club.

"They were going to make it impossible."