Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir wins landmark football maternity pay ruling

Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir with the Champions League trophy
Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir won the Champions League with Lyon in 2022

Iceland captain Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir says winning a claim against former side Lyon for failing to pay her full salary during pregnancy is a “wake-up call” for clubs.

In May 2022, a Fifa tribunal ordered French side Lyon to pay unpaid salaries of more than 82,000 euros (£72,000).

Player’s union Fifpro called it a “landmark” case.

“This is not ‘just business’,” said 32-year-old Gunnarsdottir after the ruling was made public on Tuesday.external-link

“This is about my rights as a worker, as a woman and as a human being.”

Writing in the Player’s Tribune,external-link the midfielder, who is now at Juventus, added: “The victory felt bigger than me. It felt like a guarantee of financial security for all players who want to have a child during their career. That it’s not a ‘maybe,’ or an unknown.

“But I want to make sure no one has to go through what I went through ever again.”

She also tweeted: “This story is bigger than me! It’s a wake up-call for all clubs.”

Gunnarsdottir joined Lyon in 2020 and won two Champions League titles at the club before leaving for Juventus in July 2022.

Since January 2021, Fifa rules state female players are entitled to a minimum of 14 weeks’ maternity leave at two-thirds of their salary.

The player, who fell pregnant in early 2021, agreed with Lyon she would return home to Iceland for the final stages of her pregnancy after she was told by doctors that she should stop playing football.

Gunnarsdottir said she intended to return to Lyon but found that her payments stopped coming through when she was in Iceland.

“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,” she added.

“These are part of my rights, and this can’t be disputed, even by a club as big as Lyon.”

Fifpro supported Gunnarsdottir in her claim and said: “We are pleased to have assisted her in achieving the first ruling of its kind since Fifa’s maternity regulations came into force in January 2021.

“It is extremely important for women footballers and the women’s game that these mandatory maternity regulations are both implemented and enforced at national level.”

Lyon said they “put everything in place to support” Gunnarsdottir during her pregnancy and return to top-level football, but added that they were following French law, which they “have sometimes found too restrictive on these subjects”.

The club said they are “proud” to have welcomed her back to Lyon after maternity leave and that they “separated for purely sporting reasons”.

Lyon must pay Gunnarsdottir 82,094.82 euros – around £72,139 – plus 5% interest a year from 10 September last year until the debt has been cleared.

World governing body Fifa warned Lyon that if they did not pay within 45 days of the decision then they would be given a transfer ban.