As the US women’s soccer team romps through 2016, winning national tournaments in preparation for this summer’s Olympics, during which they are the favorites to win their fifth gold medal, one fact became abundantly clear to some of the team’s stars: They weren’t getting paid.
Last week, five members of the team, including stars Carli Lloyd, Hope Solo and Alex Morgan, filed a wage discrimination action against the US Soccer Federation with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The filing has its basis in the fact that despite the women’s team generating almost $20 million more revenue last year than did the men’s team (and that’s saying nothing of their competitive dominance), they were still only making a quarter of what the men earn.
The easy way out for US Soccer would be to note that national team contracts are collectively bargained, so US Soccer can make the claim that this is the deal that the women’s team cut years ago; more to the point, money has always been an issue for such a young federation that has struggled to gain support in a country dominated by baseball and football.
While excuses are all well and good, this team is winning games, packing stadiums and spreading the game of soccer as much if not more than the men; after all, last July’s World Cup Final, in which the US women dominated Japan, was the most watched soccer match ever in the US, with some 25 million viewers tuning in.
Yet their reward is to play on artificial turf that is unfit to play, to do victory tours for little to no pay and to have to endure a daily fight for the right to earn as much as their male counterparts.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” Solo said in a press conference announcing the lawsuit. “We are the best in the world, have three World Cup Championships, four Olympic golds, and the men get paid more just to show up than we get paid to win major championships.”
We have come a long way from then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter suggested women’s soccer players wear tighter shorts to boost their popularity in 2004, but the fact that winning last year’s World Cup earned each women’s player a $75,000 bonus, a bonus that is a whopping $325,000 less than what the men would have earned (which they didn’t), is a ludicrous statement. Isn’t it 2016?
US Soccer, following an initial statement in which they expressed ‘disappointment’ that the action was taken, issued a second statement iterating their commitment and engagement in negotiating a new CBA that appropriately addresses compensation.
“We think very highly of the women’s national team and we want to compensate them fairly,” said United States Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati in a press conference. “We will sit down and work through that with them when this all settles down.”
“I’ve been on this team for a decade and a half, and I’ve been through numerous CBA negotiations, and honestly, not much has changed,” Solo said during an interview on NBC’s “Today”. “We continue to be told we should be grateful just to have the opportunity to play professional soccer, to get paid for doing it. In this day and age, it’s about equality. It’s about equal rights. It’s about equal pay. We’re pushing for that. We believe now the time is right because we believe it’s our responsibility for women’s sports and specifically for women’s soccer to do whatever it takes to push for equal pay and equal rights. And to be treated with respect.”
Several players on the men’s team, including stars like Landon Donovan and Tim Howard, have voiced their support for the women’s team. It will, however, take a larger wave of support within FIFA for any permanent change to come, from administration as well as players. FIFA, notoriously a boys’ club with antiquated policies, is the organization that dug the women this hole. It now has an opportunity to level the playing field.