A New Era of Soccer Moms Navigates a Rapidly Changing Game

A New Era of Soccer Moms Navigates a Rapidly Changing Game

When Iceland’s Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir took maternity leave from her French team, Olympique Lyonnais, in 2021, the team refused to pay her full salary. So with the help of FIFPro, the global players’ union, she filed a claim with FIFA, global soccer’s governing body, and won a landmark judgment. Gunnarsdottir called it “a wake-up call for clubs.”

Sarai Bareman, the head of women’s soccer at FIFA, helped create those new rules, which mandate that clubs grant pregnant players a 14-week maternity leave paid at two-thirds salary and ensure they have a spot on the roster when they return. Now Bareman, a former player, has a young child of her own, a toddler who could be seen running around FIFA’s main hotel in Auckland during the World Cup.

Bareman said eight players had registered with FIFA to have their children travel with their teams at the World Cup, and that several others had made private arrangements. The support they receive, and their visibility, was uncommon even a decade ago.

“I think it’s very much driven by North America, because we’ve seen some very high-profile returning mothers,” she said. “I honestly feel that has influenced a lot of other female players around the world to be more publicly open about the fact that, yes, they’ve got kids, too. Their kids are there. That’s a massive, massive part of their life.”

Morgan had Charlie in 2020, and returned to the sport just in time for the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, often wearing a gold ring with the word “MAMA” that she bought for herself as a reminder of her priorities. Since then, she has regularly included Charlie in her postgame celebrations on the field, carrying her around to see the fans and letting her frolic on the grass. Morgan’s 10.1 million Instagram followers are treated to regular updates on Charlie, including one last week with photos of them after they had been reunited after several weeks apart. “She made it, and my heart is full,” Morgan wrote in the post.

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