90min is championing 10 influential women in football this International Women’s Day.
Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir made waves when she won her maternity claim after not being paid her full salary during pregnancy.
In January of this year, the Icelander detailed for the first time how she had taken her former club, Olympique Lyonnais, to a FIFA Tribunal and won, after they failed to pay her salary following her announcement of pregnancy.
“When I’d first told the club about my pregnancy, they seemed very happy for me and said they’d do everything to support me, and I believed that,” said Gunnarsdottir in an written account of the events leading up the case.
“[For four months] I didn’t hear from anyone in the front office or the coaching staff. I was still in close touch with some teammates, as well as the doctor and the physios, just personally. They were all good friends of mine. But the club never formally reached out. No one checked to see how my training was going, how my pregnancy was progressing.
“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.
“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.
“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 O.K. This is not ‘just business.’ This is about my rights as a worker, as a woman and as a human being.”
She also posted on Twitter, saying: “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!”
In May 2022, the FIFA Tribunal ruled in Gunnarsdottir’s favour, ordering Lyon to pay €82,094.80 as outstanding remuneration, on top of a five per cent interest.
FIFPRO, which is the world representative body for footballers, called the case “the first ruling of its kind since FIFA’s maternity regulations came into force in January 2021.”
Gunnarsdottir won the Champions League twice with Lyon as well as the Coupe de France. She moved to Juventus following her departure from Lyon, a decision that OL said was “purely sporting reasons,” despite Gunnarsdottir being told that she would have no future at Lyon if she fought the case at the FIFA level.
The midfielder started her career in her home country of Iceland before playing for Rosengard in Sweden for six years. After her stint in Sweden, she made the move to VfL Wolfsburg, winning both the league and the DFB-Pokal in the four seasons that she was there, before signing to OL in 2020.
Internationally, Gunnarsdottir has been a vital player for Iceland, earning her first senior call-up at the age of 16. She made her senior debut in a UEFA Women’s Euro 2009 qualifier against Slovenia and has since established herself as a cornerstone of the Icelandic national team, making 145 appearances for her country.
Gunnarsdottir has been captaining the side since 2017, except for a brief stint in 2014 when her teammate Margret Lara Vidarsdottir was away on maternity leave, and is undeniably one of football’s influential women.