How Many World Cups Does it Take to Get Equal Pay?

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Issue 13, Volume 110

By Shivali Korgaonkar, Aki Yamaguchi 

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For all of sports history, female athletes have been paid less than their male equivalents, whether it be through sponsorships, championships, or general salaries. Initially, viewership and revenue between men’s sports and women’s sports were incomparable. Today, while profit from female athletes is increasing rapidly, their income doesn’t follow suit. After a dominating World Cup win and impressive 48-4-6 regular season record, captain and leading goal scorer Megan Rapinoe secured $1.2 million in 2019. Amazing, right? Well, if Rapinoe’s equivalent on the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) had led his team to the same victories, he would have made $4.1 million in comparison.

On International Women’s Day, March 8, 2019, all 28 members of the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) filed a class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF). Filed in a Los Angeles court, the lawsuit was filed under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The lawsuit stated, “Despite the fact that these female and male players are called upon to perform the same job responsibilities on their teams and participate in international competitions for their single common employer, the USSF, the female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts” (USWNT’s Lawsuit). Detailed in the lawsuit was the USWNT’s lack of compensation for their many championships, Olympic medals, consistent No.1 ranks, 2015 World Cup victory, and 2019 World Cup victory, the most-watched soccer game of all time in the U.S.

The players also highlighted the many ways they have been treated unequally—and not just in pay. One such highlight was the disparity between training fields and transportation conditions. The USWNT played on artificial turf for 21 percent of their matches from 2014 to 2017, compared to the two percent of matches the USMNT played. The lawsuit also highlighted that if both teams won 20 non-tournament matches in a year, the top female player would earn a maximum of $99,000, compared to a top male player who would earn an average of $263,320. All in all, the lawsuit brought to light the USSF's clear gender-based discrimination regarding their overall pay, conditions, and training.

At the beginning of March 2020, the USSF released controversial statements in their court filing arguing their defense. Under President Carlos Cordiero, the USSF claimed that women "do not perform equal work requiring equal skill [and] effort" in comparison to men, because "the overall soccer-playing ability required to compete at the senior men's national team level is materially influenced by the level of certain physical attributes such as speed and strength." These statements received a great deal of backlash from the USWNT, whose members demonstrated their disappointment during their SheBelieves tournament game by wearing their training gear inside out. President Cordiero responded to the backlash by resigning after claiming that he never read over the court filings, and, had he read it, he would’ve opposed the statement.

Other arguments made in the USSF’s defense include that the men’s team participates in more tournaments, which in turn generates more money, while the women’s team only participates in one large tournament every four years. The USSF also cited star forward Alex Morgan, who is still receiving 75 percent of her salary while on pregnancy leave, a seemingly “equitable” paycheck for a pregnant woman in sports.

We agree that men and women cannot display the same physical strength on the field, but the USSF is leaving out some key details in their defense. For example, the most purchased soccer jersey on the Nike website, a major sponsor of the USSF, is the U.S. women’s home jersey. Additionally, since 2016, the women’s team has generated $300,000 more for the federation than the men’s team. Not to mention, they’ve played and won more games and championships, meaning they’ve had to travel, promote, and practice more than the men’s team. While the men’s team definitely has the potential to generate more money, they are not actually winning these tournaments and receiving monetary prizes like the women’s team has been. In fact, their 2019 regular season record stands at a lackluster 21-11-13.

Interestingly enough, the USMNT stepped forward to support the USWNT. They revealed that the women’s team members have been blatantly left out of discussions on salary, and instead argued for the women to receive three times more pay than they, the men, were receiving. Most importantly, they encouraged the public to actively display their distaste toward the USSF while encouraging and supporting the female players. Members of the men’s team had been notoriously quiet throughout this situation, so this press release was a huge and surprising win for the women.

The biological makeup of a woman is being used as an excuse to block out the voices of the little girls across the world who want nothing more than to see their idols treated just like their brothers’. We, alongside the USWNT, fight for an equal industry where the distinction between male and female is irrelevant to the assessment of how much an athlete should earn.

As female soccer players ourselves, the words of former USSF President Cordiero ring a familiar bell in our ears. It incites anger, reminding us that if we continue our soccer career, part of our responsibilities would be off the field and in the courtroom fighting for equal opportunity. And who’s to say that our daughters won’t be obligated to continue this fight? We are repeatedly told that our skills will never match those of our male counterparts. Regardless of our actual performance, we are told we will never play like the boys. These ideals are instilled in girls’ minds from a young age, both in and out of sports.

The USWNT has been our figure of perseverance because they have pursued their passion on a global platform, despite the fact that they have never, and may never, get the rightful compensation for the time and energy they devote to this sport. Not only do we admire their gameplay, but we also idolize the endless fight they have put up against a federation that has done nothing but shoot them down.

On International Women’s Day, we weren’t surprised to see back-to-back pictures of girls posting their support for the USWNT on social media. Regardless of whether they are soccer players or not, women around the world fully empathize with what the USWNT is fighting for. They’re not fighting for money. They’re fighting for respect. This lawsuit stretches far beyond the realm of soccer and the right for equal pay. When little girls see that these strong women were able to persist through countless struggles, they will do the same.