'Landmark' FIFA ruling forces Lyon to pay withheld maternity salary to Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir

Sara Bjork Gunnarsdóttir
(Image credit: Getty Images)

FIFA has forced Lyon to reimburse former player Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir, after withholding her salary payments during her pregnancy and maternity leave. 

Bjork Gunnarsdottir joined Lyon in July 2020 from German club VfL Wolfsburg, and, in April 2021, she announced she was pregnant. Lyon allowed her to travel back to her native Iceland for the final months of her pregnancy, prior to giving birth. 

However, they only payed part of her salary, before stopping payments altogether.

A FIFA tribunal has now ordered Lyon to pay Bjork Gunnarsdottir €82,000 in backpayments, though, representing a major moment in women's football for the 32-year-old. 

Commenting on FIFA's ruling on Twitter, Bjork Gunnarsdottir said: "This is not ‘just business.’ This is about my rights as a worker, as a woman and as a human being.

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"Finally telling my story after I got pregnant in Lyon and the treatment I got while I was pregnant and returning to the pitch.

"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."

Now currently playing for Juventus, Bjork Gunnarsdottir has returned to football at both club and international level. 

FIFPRO, the global union for professional footballers, congratulated Bjork Gunnarsdottir for the "landmark ruling" (opens in new tab)

"Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir’s landmark ruling against former club Olympique Lyonnais sends a clear message to clubs and footballers worldwide," it said.

"The strict application of maternity rights is enforceable."

Indeed, FIFA introduced maternity protection rules in January 2021, ensuring professional female footballers receive at least 14 weeks of maternity leave. During this time, FIFA's rules stipulate that players must receive at least two-thirds of their contractually agreed salary.

Clubs must also not discriminate against or terminate players because of their pregnancy, and must give them a fair opportunity to return to playing after giving birth. 

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Ryan Dabbs
Staff writer

Ryan is a staff writer for FourFourTwo, joining the team full-time in October 2022. He first joined Future in December 2020, working across FourFourTwo, Golf Monthly, Rugby World and Advnture's websites, before eventually earning himself a position with FourFourTwo permanently. After graduating from Cardiff University with a degree in Journalism and Communications, Ryan earned a NCTJ qualification to further develop as a writer while a Trainee News Writer at Future.