The US women’s soccer team successfully took home the gold in the 2019 World Cup this July, amid an ongoing legal battle for equal pay. In a brilliant undefeated run in the tournament, the US women’s team snagged their fourth World Cup trophy, adding to their four Olympic gold medals, yet earn only a fraction of the US men’s team who have never won a major title. This year’s tournament played out in France and featured an undefeated US women’s team, eliminating powerhouses such as England, France, and Sweden. Their rise to the top, culminating with a 2-0 win over the Netherlands, further fueled their fight to eliminate the substantial difference in wages compared to their male counterparts.
The USWNT Lawsuit
Despite their impressive performance on the international stage, the team’s recent lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation claims that women are paid substantially less than the men’s national team, whom have never won a World Cup or Olympic title. The federal class-action lawsuit representing the current twenty-eight team members claims that the USSF employs “continuing policies and practices of gender discrimination.”The legal battle for better pay officially began in 2016 when five players filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. After no action was taken from this complaint, the current 28 players filed a separate lawsuit on March 8 of this year, stating that “female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts. This is true even through their performance has been superior to that of the male players.” Some of the statistics cited in the lawsuit are shocking. For example, if the women’s team won 20 normal season games in a year, a top-tier female player would make a maximum of $99,000 in comparison with the average $263,320 of a male player in the same scenario. As for tournament bonuses, the USSF paid the men’s team $5.375 million in bonuses for the 2014 World Cup where they were eliminated in the round of 16, while the women’s team made a mere $1.725 million in bonuses after the 2015 World Cup even after winning the whole tournament.
The Pay Gap Explained
The large pay gap isn’t explained as easily as it may seem at first glance. Salaries are based on a variety of factors including revenue, sponsorships, broadcasting rights, and predetermined tournament bonuses. The men’s and women’s national teams have established separate collective-bargaining agreements with USSF, which include different structures of bonuses and base salaries. Basically, it is impossible to directly compare salaries between players from the men’s team and women’s team.FIFA, the organization that runs the World Cup, also plays a factor here. Tournament bonuses are predetermined by the organization and differ greatly by gender. One of the reasons is the revenue that FIFA generates from the tournaments, where the men’s tournament earns about $6 billion compared to the $131 million in the women’s World Cup. Nevertheless, it is the USSF that ultimately pays salaries and bonuses to its players. As a non-profit organization with the mission to “make soccer, in all its forms, a pre-eminent sport in the United States,” it is questionable if revenue should be the ultimate measure for player compensation. In 2017, the women’s team did reach an agreement that somewhat equaled out the pay gap, where a female player would earn only $28,333 less than a man, compared to $164,320 under a previous agreement. USSF claims that “market realities” are to blame for the substantial pay gap, however the women’s team has proposed a revenue-sharing model to share in the risk and reward of revenue of WNT activities, an idea supported by the U.S. National Soccer Team Players Association.
Equal Pay for Women in Sports
The USWNT’s fight for equal pay is part of a larger movement of gender pay gap in sports worldwide, entrenched in a deeper institutional and cultural context of gender inequality. Yes, men’s soccer earns more money in general, but this can be attributed to the fact that federations generally don’t invest as much resources or financing towards developing women’s soccer. The arguments used by USSF for the difference in wages are familiar and hint at the general treatment of women and girls in sports in the US and worldwide. For the USWNT, this inherent imbalance can be seen in the facilities teams play on (turf vs. natural grass), transportation (commercial vs. private jets), ticket prices for games, and lack of marketing resources dedicated to women’s soccer. Megan Rapinoe, team captain and fierce advocate for equal pay, believes it is her team’s responsibility “not only for our team and for future US players, but for players around the world — and frankly women all around the world — to feel like they have an ally in standing up for themselves, and fighting for what they believe in, and fighting for what they deserve and for what they feel like they have earned.”As the lawsuit heads into mediation, the USWNT has received an outpouring of support from fans, celebrities, and lawmakers alike for their cause. Fresh off of their victory at the 2019 World Cup, all eyes will be on the impending resolution and the consequences it will have for women’s soccer and women playing sports worldwide.
Author – David Corne
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