Player awarded back pay from Lyon over maternity leave

Lyon’s Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir (left) duels for the ball with Wolfsburg’s Sara Doorsoun-Khajeh during the Women’s Champions League final in San Sebastian, Spain, on August 30, 2020.

MIDFIELDER Midfielder Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir has been awarded more than $88,000 in back pay that was withheld by her French club team, Lyon, in violation of FIFA’s rules protecting maternity rights.

Gunnarsdóttir, who now plays for Juventus in Italy, wrote her account of the salary dispute for The Players’ Tribune website and the details of the ruling by FIFA’s Football Tribunal were made public this week.

According to FIFPro, the international players union that represented Gunnarsdóttir in the dispute, the case is the first to test FIFA rules protecting players’ maternity rights that went into effect on January 1, 2021.

“This should have been the happiest moment of my life,” Gunnarsdóttir wrote. “All I wanted was to enjoy my pregnancy, and work my ass off to come back to help the team and the club.

“But instead I felt confused, stressed, and betrayed.”

Lyon claimed it was following French law. But FIFA’s rules say players are 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.” Clubs are also required to re-integrate players following maternity leave.

FIFPro said in a statement: “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.”

Megan Rapinoe reacted on social media, notable because she plays for OL Reign in the National Women’s Soccer League. The Reign are owned by the parent company of Olympique Lyonnais, commonly known as Lyon.

“The culture at OL in France has a LONG way to go. Y’all love to talk about how much you support women, but this math is not mathing. I implore you to be the club that is ALWAYS supporting women, not the club that once did,” Rapinoe posted.

Gunnarsdóttir discovered she was pregnant with her first child in March 2021. Advised by her doctor to stop playing and wary of COVID-19 infections within the team, she asked if she could return home to Iceland, with the understanding that she would continue to play for Lyon after pregnancy leave.

But once home, her regular paychecks stopped. Instead, she got only a small percentage, based on what the team said was French law.

FIFPro took up the fight for her wages. In the meantime, she gave birth to her son and returned to Lyon, but it was clear that her role on the team had diminished, and she understood that her future was elsewhere.

“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,” she wrote. “That’s why I’m writing this. 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.”

Image credits: AP



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