I know this story might upset some powerful people in the football world. You’re not supposed to talk about this side of the game. But I have to tell the truth.
Everybody knows the image of my former club, Lyon.
Eight Champions Leagues.
The best players from every country.
It’s one of the most successful clubs in football. Jean-Michel Aulas, the president, has invested a lot in the team, making fair pay and good conditions for players just as big a priority as winning.
Being from Iceland, I always dreamed of playing in the biggest leagues in Europe. When I turned pro, I literally told my agent, Dietmar, “Wolfsburg and Lyon. I want these.”
I played four great years at Wolfsburg, then in the summer of 2020, I moved to Lyon. And while I was there, I did live out my dream. I’ll never forget the feeling of winning the Champions League. Scoring in the final and winning the title with Lyon was one of my proudest moments in my career.
And then I got pregnant.
At first, the only thing I felt was happiness, but then reality hit me.- Sara Björk
It was March 2, 2021, when I realised. I told my boyfriend, Árni, that I was running a bit late, but I thought I’d be starting my period soon. He asked if I wanted to take a test, but I was like, “No, no, no, I feel it.” Another day went by, and we were like, O.K., that’s weird. So that evening when I came home from training I took a test. You’re supposed to wait two minutes, but in one the results were there — two blue lines. I was definitely pregnant.
At first, the only thing I felt was happiness, but then reality hit me.
Shit. How is the team going to react to this?
In Europe, for a long time it just hasn’t really been a normal thing for a player to get pregnant. There’s been progress, but the culture is still the culture. So when I saw the pregnancy test, it’s like of course I’m so happy. This wasn’t planned, but I knew I was with the person I wanted to start a family with, and I didn’t think for a second that I wouldn’t have my baby. But in the back of your mind, you still feel like you’re guilty of something. Like you’re letting people down.
It was all really nerve-wracking. So when I told the team doctor, we decided together to keep it secret. The doctor told the physios at that time in Lyon, and they were instructed to monitor me and help as needed — which they did — but to keep it a secret as well. I was only about five weeks pregnant, so it was still really early, and we had important games coming up. I felt a lot of pressure to find the right moment to tell the girls, so they wouldn’t be affected by it. So a month goes by, and I keep training normally.
Then the PSG game comes around. Jean-Luc, the coach at the time, came up to me in the warmup and asked how I was doing because the day before the game, we were training on that pitch in Paris, and I threw up three times. I felt horrible. So on game day, when Jean-Luc asked if I could sub-in at halftime, I had to say no. And that’s not me — I would never. But it was just too much.
I knew I had to tell my teammates the truth. I felt that in this club, at this level, if I couldn’t train 100% then I shouldn’t be training.
So about a week later, I told everyone. We were sitting in the locker room, the whole team. The director, staff members, physios, they were all there. And I just said I’d been feeling sick the past few weeks because, “Yeah…. I’m pregnant.” It was funny to see their reactions because some of them were so shocked. I think there were a lot of mixed emotions — when a player says she’s pregnant, it’s a special moment, but it also comes with quite a few unknowns.
I think once it really sank in, everybody was so happy for me and super excited. But they naturally had a lot of questions because I was the first person in the history of Lyon to get pregnant and with the full intention to come back and play.
Dietmar told me the director was surprised but happy for me, and arranged a meeting with us, where we discussed the next steps. The doctor said I should stop playing at this point. Also, several people on the team had gotten COVID, and it was continuing to go around. I was worried about what could happen if I got it. I didn’t know how that would affect the baby. I just wanted to carry out the rest of my pregnancy at home in Iceland, where I could understand the doctors in my native language and be around my mom and my partner and my family. So we asked the director, and he said yes.
But I wanted to return to Lyon after giving birth. I was very clear about that. I believed that being the first player ever for Lyon to return from pregnancy would be something we could all celebrate together.
So the team signed off on my plan, helped me with the paperwork for the insurance, and I flew to Iceland on the first of April.
I didn’t have any reason to think anything would go wrong. Until I didn’t get my first paycheck.- Sara Björk
As soon as I’m up in the air, it’s almost like a weight has been lifted. I had been carrying so much stress and tension in my body trying to figure out how to break the news. When I landed in Iceland, it all just melted away. It was like, O.K., I can breathe now.
For a while I just had so much else going on, I didn’t have time to think or be concerned about my salaries from the club. I didn’t have any reason to think anything would go wrong.
Until I didn’t get my first paycheck. All that was deposited was just a small percentage from social security.
To be fair, there was a lot of logistical stuff to deal with, so I didn’t think too much of it. Probably a clerical error. But, I checked with the other players just to be sure.
They were paid, right on time.
Then I missed another. So I’m like, Hold on. I called Dietmar, and he wrote to Vincent, the club director. There was no response, so my agency reached out again. Then, we sent formal letters.
When Vincent finally responded, he apologised for two of the months I was missing, and said I would get paid for those. But for the third month, he says something about how they’re going by French law — meaning, they don’t owe me anything else.
I said to Dietmar, “No that’s not right, they should be going by the FIFA rules.”
These rules were pretty new, but I vaguely knew about them because of a random conversation I had with some players one day. This was before I got pregnant. I remember we were all talking about kids, and everybody was like, “Yeah, there’s no security for us.” And I specifically remember Jodie Taylor was sitting on this table, and she said FIFPRO was working on pregnancy and maternity leave for professional footballers. I thought that was cool, but I really didn’t dig deeper at the time.
Now, I’m thinking, What even are my rights???
It’s not a position you expect to be in, especially with a team like this.
Dietmar kept pushing the issue, telling them, “Hey, still lacking salaries.” But we’d get no response. The players’ union in France became involved, and then FIFPRO. Weeks turned to months. Still no full paycheck.
Lyon refused to give a clear answer on what the criterion was that was being applied. Finally, Dietmar told Vincent that FIFPRO was going to fight this at the FIFA level.
Vincent said: “If Sara goes to FIFA with this, she has no future in Lyon at all.”
She has no future in Lyon.
This should have been the happiest moment of my life.- Sara Björk
I couldn’t wrap my head around that. I was just shocked. And I’ll be honest, I was hurt. The whole situation made me feel crazy. How could any team get away with this?
There wasn’t going to be a discussion or negotiation. Vincent completely shut it down.
So, I’m in Iceland. Pregnant. And now I’m thinking, Wait, did I just lose my job?? I was seriously angry.
This should have been the happiest moment of my life.
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.
I don’t know, maybe they thought, She’s just going to Iceland to go on vacation. But I was training like a maniac during my pregnancy. Once I got over the nausea, I felt really fresh. I hated not being able to play football, but I could still run, and I could swim. I was working with a strength coach every day, which I paid for myself…. I had to pay for everything out of my savings. I took a lot out, and I wasn’t sure I was going to ever get it back. That’s not a good feeling, especially when you’re starting a family.
And all this time, I still had a bunch of regular questions going through my head about being a mom, like how will I manage doing both, being a professional and being a mom on this level??? Training while breastfeeding? How’s it going to be when I’m back in Lyon with my family?
I was trying to focus on the things I could control, trying to listen to my body. Trying to feel good and trying to just, in a way, enjoy the pregnancy. There were positive moments too, that I’ll never forget. I looked forward to every check-up to see the little hands on the ultrasound and listen to the baby’s heartbeat. In those moments I’d tell myself, I’m forgetting everything. I’m completely letting go and living in this moment.
But I could never completely forget. Because it’s hard enough coming back after pregnancy at this level, and moving abroad where there is no family around to ask for help.
In the back of my head, I can’t stop thinking, I have no future at the club.
Does that mean that I’m not going to play the next six months, that I’ll just be kept in the freezer for the rest of my contract??
The worries just kept piling up. I felt like shit. One night I said to Árni, “Maybe I just have to quit.”
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. But now, I wasn’t so sure.
From the first of April, when I came to Iceland, until August, 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.
Then one day, amidst all the craziness … I went into labor.
It was the most amazing, indescribable feeling, becoming a mom. You feel like a superhero after a birth like that.
I flew back to Lyon in January of last year with Árni and our son, Ragnar.
And I have to be completely honest, a part of me wanted to come into the club and just tell everybody how angry I was for what they had done and leave.
But I told myself I would go back and do everything at 110%. I was like, I will show you guys how fit I will be. I was ready to just play.
But that didn’t work out how I planned.
Training was different when I got back. I was treated differently.
They always made me feel like it was a negative thing that I had a baby.- Sara Björk
The coaches, including Sonia, had reassured me that they would help me and fight for me to get everything that I would need.
But I was being asked — no, told — all sorts of things, like not to bring my baby with me on away trips. They said it was because it could really disturb the players on the bus or plane, if he cried the whole way. I shook my head and told them I’m not signing anything like that. This was while I was still breastfeeding, and he was so small and so dependent on me. If they wouldn’t budge on this, I couldn’t attend the away games.
In the end, it was decided that they would give me and Ragnar two away trips to test it and see how it would go. I shook my head again! I wasn’t comfortable with him being “tested.” I wasn’t going to put myself and Ragnar in that situation. The understanding between us just was not there, and I felt that. They always made me feel like it was a negative thing that I had a baby.
Meanwhile, FIFPRO was still trying to get me my full wages from the period when I was pregnant, via the FIFA tribunal. I couldn’t help but think the case was having an effect on my relationship with the club.
Vincent said in a meeting with me, after I got back, that he still didn’t understand it, but that I had every right to do what I needed to do, and they had every right to defend themselves.
The president also walked into the room while I was there. It was the first time he had seen me since I had returned with my baby. He didn’t even greet me, didn’t look at or acknowledge Ragnar. But Vincent had just reassured me, five minutes before, regarding the case, that “it wasn’t personal.” After that moment, with the president, it was clear that it was.
I told Vincent, “Yeah, I have every right to defend myself because there’s a contract telling me that I have the right, and there’s a law telling me that I have the right.”
He just shook his head and said that they were going by the French Law, and they were sticking by that.
He said that it wasn’t personal, only business.
I asked him about what he said to Dietmar, how if I went to FIFA then I wouldn’t have any future in Lyon.
He said he didn’t say that, and it was the coach, Sonia, who decided she couldn’t see me as a future player in her team.
I was so exhausted from all the fighting. It was clear that, regardless of what was said, the essence was true: As a new mother, I didn’t have a future with this club.
They were going to make it impossible.
We got the decision from the FIFPRO lawsuit in May.
The club was ordered to pay me the unpaid salaries — the whole amount I requested and exactly what I was owed.
Lyon requested the grounds of the decision, which one normally does if one is intending to appeal. And once we got that, we could really read how FIFA analysed the case and arrived at the conclusions.
They talked about the “duty of care” of the club, that there was no contact with me during my pregnancy. No one was really checking on me, following up, seeing how I was doing mentally and physically, both as an employee, but also as a human being. Basically, they had a responsibility to look after me, and they didn’t. After Lyon received the grounds, they decided not to appeal.
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.
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.
Ragnar is almost a year old, and we’re in a great place as a family. I’m at Juventus now, and I’m very happy.
But 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.
I’m very hopeful about the women’s game. There’s a lot to celebrate. The facilities? The investment? The level? The fans filling up the stadium? We’ve come so far. That’s undeniable.
But the reality is, when it comes to the overall culture? There’s a lot more work to do.
We deserve better.