Former National Team Captain Sara Björk Wins Maternity Rights Case

Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir fyrirliði landsliðs Íslands í fótbolta

Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir, recently retired captain of the Women’s National Football Team, has won her maternity case against former club and employer Olympique Lyonnais.

Read more: Captain Sara Björk Retires from National Team

During her time at the prestigious French football club, she became the first Icelander to score in the finals of a Champions League match, among other achievements.

After becoming pregnant in 2021, however, she ran up against cultural expectations within professional sports that discourage athletes from having children during the height of their careers. 

Sara Björk arranged with her club to return to Iceland for the duration of her pregnancy, with the understanding that she would return to the team after giving birth. However, Lyon soon began withholding her pay. When it became clear the withheld pay was part of a pattern, Sara Björk pressed claims against Lyon. Now, she has been awarded the back pay, plus interest, in a landmark case of maternity rights in professional sports.

Sara Björk now plays for the Italian club Juventus.  A full account of her pregnancy and subsequent battle with Lyon can be read here.

In a statement on social media, Sara Björk said: “This is not ‘just business.’ This is about my rights as a worker, as a woman and as a human being.” 

Captain Sara Björk Retires from Iceland’s National Team

Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir fyrirliði landsliðs Íslands í fótbolta

Footballer Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir has decided to retire from the women’s national football team. Sara Björk, who’s served as captain for nearly a decade, made the announcement on social media this morning.

The only Icelander to have scored in a Champion’s League Final

In a post on her Instagram page this morning, footballer Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir announced that she was retiring from the women’s national football team.

As noted by Vísir, Sara Björk has played for the national team for sixteen years and holds the record for most games (145); she played her first match with the national team against Slovenia in August of 2007 – when she had yet to celebrate her seventeenth birthday.

Read More: Iceland Review Profiles Sara Björk in 2021

Sara Björk took over the captain’s armband from Katrín Jónsdóttir almost a decade ago and is the only Icelander to have scored in a Champion’s League final – and the only Icelandic woman to have lifted the trophy.

Sara Björk is a four-time Swedish league and cup champion with FC Rosengård (formerly FC Malmö), a four-time German league and cup champion with FC Wolfsburg, and Iceland’s Athlete of the Year in 2018 and 2020 (the only woman to have won twice).

“A hell of a journey”

Sara does not cite a specific reason why she has decided to leave the national team but states that it has been “an absolute pleasure and an honour.” “But I know, at this point in my career, that it’s time to say goodbye. It’s been a hell of a journey!”

Sara, who has participated in all four European competitions with the Icelandic national team, concluded her announcement by thanking the Icelandic Football Association (ÍSÍ) for their cooperation and by wishing the association and the women’s national team “a bright future.”

The announcement in full:

“After 16 years playing for my country I have decided to stop. For me it’s been an absolute pleasure and honor but I know at this point in my career it’s time to say goodbye. It’s been a hell of a journey! I have always been very proud putting on the blue jersey from day one. Being part of the team that qualified first time in in history for the women’s euros in 2009 and taking part in four women’s euros tournaments is something I’m very proud of! I want to thanks KSÍ , all the coaches, staff members , players and volunteers that shared this journey with me, along with all those great memories during my time!”

Women’s Euro Stadium Choices ‘Disrespectful to Women’s Football’

Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir fyrirliði landsliðs Íslands í fótbolta

Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir, the captain of Iceland’s national women’s football team, had strong words this week for the stadiums that have been chosen for the women’s European Championship, which will take place in England this summer, ESPN reports. The choice of several low-capacity arenas are “embarrassing,” Sara Björk remarked, and “not the respect we deserve. They haven’t prepared for the fact that we can sell more than 4,000, it is disrespectful to women’s football.”

Sara Björk made the remarks while speaking to the podcast Their Pitch and was particularly referring to the 5,000-seat Manchester City Academy stadium, where two of Iceland’s games will be played. “I am disappointed with the arenas we have been given,” she said. “It is shocking—we play a tournament in England with several large arenas, and we get to play at a training facility that takes around 5,000 spectators.”

A Euro 2022 spokesperson responded to Sara Björk’s critiques saying, “Manchester City Academy is not a training ground. It is the official home stadium of Manchester City Women’s Football Club…We believe that with two of the biggest football stadiums in England [Old Trafford and Wembley], four venues with a capacity of 30,000 or more, two venues over 10,000 and two stadiums under 10,000, the right mix of stadiums has been chosen to provide the tournament with a platform to fulfil its potential.”

FA’s stadium choices ‘felt hugely unambitious then and looks almost ludicrously low-key now,’ says Guardian football writer

In a piece for The Guardian, however, football writer Suzanne Wrack called Sara Björk’s frustrations “understandable,” saying “her remarks highlighted a number of important questions, chiefly among them whether the Football Association was ambitious enough in its choice of venues and whether it has done enough to adapt to the accelerating growth of the game? Arguably, the answer to both questions is no.”

Wrack goes on to point out that while women’s football, and the public’s interest in it, was in a much different place four years ago when England’s Football Association (FA) made its bid to host the tournament, “the signs of potentially rapid growth were already there and were either overlooked, ignored or woefully underestimated.” She continued by saying that “[i]t was, and always has been, clear that major international competitions qualitatively impact the growth of the women’s game.” Preceded then as it was by the launching of the Women’s Super League as a full-time professional league in 2018, the 2019 World Cup, and a broader, stated goal of doubling the fanbase by 2020, the FA’s choice of stadiums “felt hugely unambitious then and looks almost ludicrously low-key now.”

‘They should 100% reconsider’

Responding to the FA’s claim that they’ve chosen “the right mix of stadiums…to provide the tournament with a platform to fulfil its potential,” Sara Björk noted that both of Iceland’s matches at the academy have already sold out, and she believes that these sales, as well as sell-outs across the group phases, speak for themselves.

“But matches will be played in larger arenas that I’m sure will sell out,” she continued. “Women’s football explodes, and you start to get the respect you deserve. It’s getting better—more money is being pumped in now and it’s going in the right direction. But there are still things that need to improve.”

“They should 100% reconsider [changing the stadiums],” Sara Björk concluded. “Because if you look at the reactions and how many people buy tickets and how popular it has become, then you have to reconsider.”

The Women’s Euro 2022 will be held from July 6 – 31; Iceland will play July 10 (vs. Belgium); July 14 (vs Italy); and July 18 (vs France). You can listen to Sara Björk’s full interview with Their Pitch (in English) here.

Running

The first impression I got of her was from her brother. It must have been a few months back. He was saying how she had returned to training after Christmas and declared that she was in much better shape than them. “I outran ’em all,” she had said. Not like she was referring to the second […]

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Sara Björk Voted Athlete of the Year, Breaking Several Records

sara björk gunnarsdóttir athlete of the year

Footballer Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir broke several records when she was awarded 2020 Athlete of the Year yesterday, Vísir reports. She became the only woman to have received the award twice, and also received a record 600 points in the voting process.

The midfielder has enjoyed a successful year, winning the European Championships with her team Olympique Lyonnais last August. In the winning match, Sara became the first Icelander to score a goal in a European championship match – no less against her former club Wolfsburg.

Sara is the captain of Iceland’s national women’s football team, which secured itself a place at the 2022 UEFA European Championships earlier this month.

Sara Björk Wins European Championship

sara björk gunnarsdóttir football european champion

Icelandic football player Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir has won the 2020 UEFA Champions League alongside her team Olympique Lyonnais. In the finals last Saturday, Sara became the first Icelander to score a goal in a European championship match. Lyon snatched the title with a 3-1 victory against Sara’s former club Wolfsburg.

“I’m just coming back down to Earth and realising that I’ve become a European champion,” the midfielder said in an interview with Vísir yesterday. “It’s been a dream and a goal for a really long time. It’s unbelievably sweet to have the title in your hands.”

Lyon, which has often been called the strongest women’s team in the world, acquired Sara just this year. The club is defending champion of Division 1 Féminine, having won the league for 14 consecutive seasons, a world record in any sport. This is its seventh Champions League title.

Sara thanked her well-wishers in an Instagram post this morning, saying she was “proud to be an Icelander.” She dedicated her title to the girls and boys who dream of making a career in football. “There are no limits.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/CElxBWxIt–/

Sara Björk and Gylfi Þór Named Footballers of the Year

The Football Association of Iceland (KSÍ) has named Sara Björk Gunnarsdóttir and Gylfi Þór Sigurðsson Footballers of the Year, RÚV reports.

Sara Björk is a midfielder for the German club VfL Wolfsburg, which won both the German division and Cup titles this year, as well as playing in the Women’s Champion League final against Lyon. Sara Björk is also the captain of Iceland’s National Women’s football team.

Gylfi Þór is a midfielder for the Premier League club Everton. He has scored seven goals this season and made two assists over the course of 17 matches. Gylfi Þór is also a key player on Iceland’s National Men’s team and played in all three Iceland matches during the 2018 World Cup. He scored one goal during the competition, during their final group match against Croatia.

KSÍ ranked Augsberg’s Alfreð Finnbogason and Kristianstad’s Sif Atladóttir in second place this year. Burnley’s Jóhann Berg and Rosengård’s Glódís Perla Viggósdóttir came in third.