Juventus midfielder Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir has won a case against her former club Lyon, after the French side did not pay her in full when she couldn’t play due to her pregnancy.
Gunnarsdottir, 32, stopped playing in March 2021 because of her pregnancy, which she publicly announced a month later but Lyon did not pay her full salary from then until her maternity leave officially started in September that year.
That led to a landmark case, in which FIFPRO successfully represented Bjork.
FIFA’s dispute resolution chamber — in a ruling passed in May but published today — ordered Lyon to pay Bjork €82,094.82 as outstanding remuneration, plus five per cent interest.
Lyon had expressed support for Gunnarsdottir when she had announced her pregnancy, congratulating her and stating they “will do everything to ensure her return to the club occurs in the best possible conditions”.
But Gunnarsdottir, writing in The Players’ Tribune after the ruling, said she had been left “shocked” and “hurt” by dealings with her then-employers.
She wrote: “I didn’t have time to think or be concerned about my salaries from the club. I didn’t have any reason to think anything would go wrong.
“Until I didn’t get my first paycheck. All that was deposited was just a small percentage from social security. Then I missed another.
“So I’m like, hold on. I called (my agent) Dietmar, and he wrote to Vincent, the club director. There was no response, so my agency reached out again. Then, we sent formal letters.
“When Vincent finally responded, he apologised for two of the months I was missing, and said I would get paid for those. But for the third month, he says something about how they’re going by French law — meaning, they don’t owe me anything else.
“I said to Dietmar, ‘No that’s not right, they should be going by the FIFA rules’.”
She also claimed the club had said she had “no future in Lyon at all” if she went to FIFA with her grievance. Lyon deny this claim.
Lyon said in a statement: “Olympique Lyonnais has always been a pioneer in women’s football and in supporting athletes at all stages of their lives. We have always respected French law, which we have sometimes found to be too restrictive on these issues. We have always campaigned for greater protection for players in these areas.
“We have done everything possible to support Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir during her maternity period and her return to the highest level. At her request, we agreed that she could take her maternity leave in Iceland, her country of origin. When she returned to France, after the birth of her son, we did everything possible to encourage her return to the highest level in conditions that would allow her to live her new life as a mother as well as her return to competition, thanks in particular to extensive support, as we did later with Amel Majri.
“This subject is particularly close to our hearts and we are proud to have accompanied her throughout her pregnancy until her return to the pitch against Soyaux, also allowing her to travel with her daughter and her nanny. In recent months, FIFA has chosen to establish a legal framework for the first time for players who have become pregnant during their career. We are delighted about this.
“FIFA is now criticising us for not having offered Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir another job during her sick leave and then her maternity leave, while 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 had accepted. We are proud to have had Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir in the Olympique Lyonnais squad. We parted ways for purely sporting reasons.
“If she wishes to help us today to further develop French law, we would be happy to involve her in our efforts alongside Amel Majri to allow all athletes to fully experience their pregnancy and their return to competition.”
Lyon have the ability to appeal the decision before the Court of Arbitration for Sport but have been ordered by FIFA to compensate Gunnarsdottir within 45 days or face a ban on registering new players until the full amount is paid.
The case is the first of its kind after FIFA approved new rules in 2020 to protect the rights of players who are pregnant or have young children.
Those rules, which came into play in January 2021, say: “A female player is entitled to maternity leave, defined as a minimum period of 14 weeks’ paid absence – with at least eight weeks after birth — during the term of the contract, paid at the equivalent of two thirds of her contracted salary.”
The rules also state that players are not mandated to inform their clubs of a pregnancy until they are comfortable doing so, outline the need for clubs and players to work on a ‘return to play’ plan, and detail the rights of players to take leave.
The FIFPRO regulations say: “During the maternity leave, a monthly income according to the national law, but never amounting to less than 70 per cent of the player’s monthly wage, shall be guaranteed and the player shall have the right of reinstatement at the end of the maternity leave (return to the same position or an equivalent position once maternity leave ends, keeping the same remuneration established for the post).”
Gunnarsdottir returned to playing for Lyon in March 2022, before leaving for Juventus at the end of last season.
The midfielder has made seven appearances for the Italian side so far this season, scoring once.
Gunnarsdottir is the most capped player in the history of the Iceland Women’s team and retired from international duty last week.
(Photo: Getty Images)
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