OL: Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir, pregnancy and unpaid wages

The first OL player to become a mother, Icelandic midfielder Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir recounts her pregnancy punctuated by unpaid wages, total indifference on the part of the staff and a return to competition which seems disturbing. A courageous speech, which comes to criticize a club wanting to be a precursor of women’s football and shows that respect for the rights of players must systematically go through personal battles.

“This story goes beyond my own person! It’s a wake-up call for all clubs and it’s a message to all players to say that if they get pregnant or want to get pregnant during their career, they have their rights and guarantees! » By publishing without warning a text named “What Happened When I Got Pregnant” on the site The Players Tribune, Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir, Icelandic international with 143 caps and above all former player of Olympique Lyonnais, is rocking an entire club that wants to be a pioneer in women’s football. And so of everything that surrounds it. The midfielder, who was a player for the Rhone club between 2020 and 2022 and announced her pregnancy in April 2021, denounces the treatment she received from OL and did not spare Vincent Ponsot, director soccer general.

Baby bump and salary dump

“I know this story may offend many powerful people in the world of football. But I have to tell the truth. Everyone knows the image of my former team, Lyon. Eight Champions League titles. The best players from each country. It is one of the most successful clubs in football. Jean-Michel Aulas, the president, has invested heavily in the team, making fair compensation and good conditions for the players as important a priority as winning. Until I got pregnant” , begins the one who has since left OL for Juventus this summer. She recounts the joy of seeing the two lines appear on the pregnancy test, the stress of having to announce it to her club, the decision to inform the team doctor, but to keep it a secret… Then comes the match against PSG, repeated vomiting and increasingly complicated training.

“I had no reason to think anything could go wrong. Until I don’t get my first salary. » Sara Björk Gunnarsdottir

“I just told my teammates that I had been sick for the past few weeks because I was pregnant. » Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir remembers the various reactions in the locker room, between joy and real shock, since she became the first OL player to set herself such a challenge: to become a mother, then to return to competition. She also explains how she and management came to an agreement on ” a map ” which consisted of letting her return home to Iceland to experience her pregnancy surrounded by her loved ones. “For a while I had so much to do that I didn’t have time to think or worry about my salaries at the club.she says a year and a half after giving birth to a little Ragnar. I had no reason to think anything could go wrong. Until I don’t get my first salary. I had only received a small percentage from Social Security. I thought it was a clerical error. But I checked with the other players just to be sure. They had been paid on time…”

Pinching Ponsot

Then another salary is missing. “I called my agent, and he wrote to Vincent (Ponsot), the club director. I didn’t get an answer, so my agency followed up. Then we sent formal letters. » This one ends up answering, apologizes for the two months unpaid and assures that they will be. But in the third month, the club hides behind French law and gives him to understand that he owes him nothing but the amounts of social security. Except that three months before the announcement of her pregnancy, FIFA had established new rules on the question of maternity for professional players. The UNFP and FIFPro then came to the aid of Gunnarsdóttir to take the case to the FIFA tribunal. And this, despite the barely veiled threats made by Vincent Ponsot to his agent: “If Sara goes to FIFA with this, she has no future in Lyon. » “This whole situation has driven me crazyshe gets annoyed. How can a team get away with this? I am in Iceland, pregnant. And now I’m like, “Wait, did I just lose my job?” It should have been the happiest moment of my life. All I wanted was to enjoy my pregnancy, and work like crazy to come back and help the team and the club. But instead, I felt confused, stressed, and betrayed. »

“They had a responsibility to take care of me and they didn’t. » Sara Björk Gunnarsdottir

Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir gave birth to Ragnar in November 2021 and rejoined the team in January 2022. A team where she no longer seems to be welcome, where she is asked not to come with her baby on trips, where Jean -Michel Aulas does not congratulate the young mother, where Vincent Ponsot talks to her about “business” when discussing arrears. Just before leaving OL, where she feels she has “no future as a mother” , nor even on the sporting level where she is very little considered, Sara wins the legal battle against her club. OL are forced to pay 82,000 euros in salary arrears, for unpaid bills during her pregnancy and until the start of maternity leave, in accordance with FIFA rules. The club is called to order regarding its “right of care”, “due to the fact that there was no contact with me during my pregnancy” : “Nobody really looked after me, followed up, saw how I was mentally and physically, as an employee, but also as a human being. In fact, they had a responsibility to take care of me, and they didn’t. »

Rapinoe pays Aulas

This success in front of FIFA “sounds like a guarantee of financial security for all players who want to have a child during their career” . The Global Players Union talks about “historic decision” , “the first of its kind since the implementation of FIFA maternity regulations in January 2021” . And that greatly disturbs a club like OL, which wants to be “precursor in women’s football and support for athletes at all times of their lives” . Immediately drawing a press release to qualify the accusations of his ex-player, the Lyon management denies having “always respected French law, which we sometimes found too restrictive on these subjects” and denounces FIFA regulations going against it. She also claims to have “Everything done to support Sara in her motherhood and her return to the highest level” and recalls having followed the same pattern when Amel Majri in turn gave birth to Maryam.

“OL have done everything possible to support Sara in her motherhood and her return to the highest level. » club press release

Another pregnancy at OL, which seems to have been experienced very differently if we are to believe the testimony of the one who returned to competition after fifteen months of absence last weekend and whose daily life as a player-mom is often posted on the club’s social media. The reviews sent by Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir are also an opportunity for OL PLAY, the club’s official channel, to draw an interview with Amel Majri three hours later, discussing her return to the post-pregnancy field. Without approaching the pavement in the pond raised by her ex-teammate … “Thank you Amel for considering after your knee injury to become an athlete mom and for having, with Sonia (Bom pastor) and vincent (Ponsot)reinforced the emergence of an exceptional status as a very high-level professional player while giving birth to your little Maryam » responds without trembling Jean-Michel Aulas to his player.

Failing to have received an apology from her ex-club and ex-staff, Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir can count on the general indignation caused by her story and the responses of her former leaders. “It’s completely shameful on the part of OLindignant Megan Rapinoe on her Twitter account, directly attacking her president, she the player of OL Reign in the US. You all like to say how much you support women, but the math is wrong. I implore you to be the club that ALWAYS supports women, not the club that once did. » A blow for Aulas and his ambition to preside over the women’s LFP.

By Anna Carreau

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