FIFPRO, the global football players’ union, on Tuesday issued a reminder to all football clubs about women’s rights after helping former Olympique Lyonnais player Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir win a landmark maternity pay case against the club.
“[The] ruling against former club Olympique Lyonnais sends a clear message to clubs and footballers worldwide: The strict application of maternity rights is enforceable,” FIFPRO said.
Calling it the “first ruling of its kind since FIFA’s maternity regulations came into force in January 2021,” FIFPRO called upon all organisations to recognize the enforcement of “mandatory maternity regulations.”
FIFA published the results of the lawsuit against the club and ordered Lyon to pay Gunnarsdottir’s full salary of more than €82,000 plus interest. Under rules approved by the decision-making FIFA Council in 2020, players must be given 14 weeks of maternity leave and clubs will be obliged to reintegrate them afterwards and provide adequate medical support.
Gunnarsdottir, who is now at Juventus, told The Players Tribune that from the time she returned to Iceland in early 2021, she received only “a small percentage from social security.” FIFPRO helped her make her first claim to FIFA in September 2021.
In addition to the salary restitution, FIFA also found that the club failed to follow the “duty of care” guidelines, which included a responsibility to offer Gunnarsdottir alternative employment and follow up on her well-being.
“They talked about the ‘duty of care’ of the club, that there was no contact with me during my pregnancy. 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,” Gunnarsdottir said.
“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. These are part of my rights, and this can’t be disputed — even by a club as big as Lyon.”
Gunnarsdottir said the resolution was bigger than her own case.
“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,” 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.”
In a statement on Tuesday, Lyon blamed French law for preventing them from meeting the FIFA requirements.
“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,” Olympique Lyonnais wrote in a news release on Tuesday.
“We are proud to have had Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir in the workforce of Olympique Lyonnais. Our paths separated for purely sporting reasons.
“If she wishes to help us today to further develop French law, we would be happy to be able to involve her in our efforts alongside Amel Majri to allow all athletes to fully experience their pregnancy as well as their return to competition.”
OL winger Majri, 29, became the first active French international to have a child in July 2022.