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Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir hails maternity pay ruling as achievement for future mothers

Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir has hailed her landmark maternity pay ruling as an achievement ‘for all women who are to follow’, after receiving over £72,000 in unpaid salaries from Lyon that she was due while pregnant.

Gunnarsdottir announced she was expecting her first child in April 2021, and gave birth in November.

The Icelandic international agreed with Lyon that she would return to her homeland for the duration of her pregnancy, before returning to the French club after giving birth. However, Lyon stopped paying her wages while she was in Iceland, claiming they were following French law.

In May 2022, Gunnarsdottir won a claim against Lyon through the FIFA Maternity Regulations. This entitled her to full payment throughout her pregnancy and until the start of her maternity leave. The regulations had been introduced in January 2021, but Gunnarsdottir is the first player to win such a claim.

“I am proud of what I have achieved, not just for me, but for all women who are to follow; all the players who are about to become mothers, and who won’t have to worry about their careers because they can use the example that I have set to ensure fair treatment,” Gunnarsdottir told FIFAPRO – who were instrumental in the introduction of the regulations.

“Even after my son was born, I was made to feel difficult because I wasn’t ready to leave a three-month-old baby overnight. Being a mother was seen as a negative influence, a possible distraction for the other players, when my son’s presence actually brought a lot of joy to my team-mates.”

Gunnarsdottir’s decision to share her story comes the week after Emma Mukandi spoke about her experience of maternity leave and being a new mother in football. This included initially pretending to have an injury because there were no maternity conditions in her contract, not being permitted to have her baby onsite due to Reading’s club policy, and having to breast pump in a cupboard.

Mukandi was given eight months full pay by Reading before returning to action in pre-season ahead of the 2022/23 campaign. The current FA maternity policy – which was agreed in January 2022 – gives new mothers 14 weeks of full pay before reverting to the statutory rate.

“As well as winning the case, I am proud of being part of the conversation around motherhood in football,” Gunnarsdottir added. “It’s not just Lyon that has to do better – but everyone. There should be more preparation; it shouldn’t come as a shock when a young woman becomes pregnant and wants to continue her career after the baby is born.

“It’s not just about financial support. As a sport, we need to understand that pregnancy is not an injury – it’s an important part of life for many people and clubs should have a system to accommodate this.

The club must follow up on and fully support the player, not just abandon them until they are able to play again. If someone at Olympique Lyon had just reached out to me, given advice on how to safely train, asked how I was feeling, it would’ve made the world of difference.”

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