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  • Writer's pictureKaren Campbell

Who Made More? The National Soccer Team That Qualified for the World Cup Or the Team That Didn't?

Photo courtesy of the USA Today

Written by Karen Campbell in honor of National Women's Day

Washington, DC: In a year that many women felt was the largest setback to women's rights in US history, there was one bright light. After a six-year legal dispute over pay parity, the American governing body of soccer reached a pay-equity settlement with female players. The landmark agreement guarantees $24 million, in addition to bonuses equivalent to those granted to their male counterparts.

Gianni Infantino, the leader of FIFA, strode onto the pitch of Stade Lyon to deliver the coveted trophy to the American women's team. Cheers from the 57,900-strong crowd sounded through the stadium, marking the occasion.The cheers weren’t what Infantino expected. The shouts were Equal Pay, Equal Pay, Equal Pay.

After honoring the four-time Cup champions with a ticker tape parade down New York's Canyon of Heroes, another incident took place three days later. During a speech by then-president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, Carlos Cordeiro, in front of City Hall, his voice was drowned out by throngs shouting Equal Pay, Equal Pay, Equal Pay again.

Photo courtesy of ESPN

Cordeiro provided the audience with a firm reassurance that their voices were being heard. Few knew he would be forced to resign months later because his reassurance didn’t show up in the Women’s National Team’s (WNT) checks.

Few knew at the time that the US Women's team were fighting in two arenas - one against the most talented players in the world; the other where a fight for equal pay was working its way through the Courts. The time was marked by a legal dispute between the U.S. Soccer and the women's national team. The federation was already in a legal tussle with all 28 members of the team, who had filed a lawsuit in March 2019, accusing the federation of "intentional gender discrimination.” USSF officials had an excellent chance to resolve the conflict and develop a solution that would help the athletes benefit from the financial rewards and public achievements of American soccer.

Choosing a different approach, the federation presented extensive documentation asserting that "(men and women) players do not perform equal work requiring equal skill, effort and responsibility under similar working conditions," as per one submission. The USSF went even further in March, claiming male players deserved preferential treatment due to biological factors: "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," read one filing.

Photo courtesy of the USA Today

A federal judge, R. Gary Klausner, largely upheld U.S. Soccer's stance. Klausner ruled in favor of the soccer organization, stating that the female national team had previously agreed to the terms of payment. Additionally, the judge found that between 2015 and 2019, the earnings of the women's team surpassed that of the men's. The case's dismissal of several key aspects of the lawsuit was a setback, but they forgot they were fighting one of the winningest women’s teams who were used to fighting back when things took a turn for the worst..

After the March filings, there was a sudden shift in public perception. In protest, the Women's National Team switched their jerseys inside out, and significant sponsors like Procter & Gamble and Coca-Cola voiced solidarity with the athletes. Cindy Parlow Cone, the Vice President of U.S. Soccer, publicly condemned the USSF's legal stance, and Don Garber, the Major League Soccer commissioner, followed suit. Within three days, Cordeiro stepped down, and in a week, the federation had switched legal representation.

Yet for that reason, the settlement represents an unexpected victory for the players: Nearly two years after losing in court, they were able to extract not only an eight-figure settlement but also a commitment from the federation to enact the very reforms the judge had rejected.

For U.S. Soccer, the settlement was an expensive end to a conflict that had battered its reputation, damaged its ties with sponsors and soured its relationship with some of its most popular stars, including Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd. U.S. Soccer was under no obligation to settle with the women’s team; a federal judge in 2020 had dismissed the players’ equal pay arguments, stripping them of nearly all of their legal leverage, and the players’ appeal was not certain to succeed.

Under the settlement, which was initially announced in February 2022, $22 million will be split into amounts proposed by the players. The remaining $2 million will be placed into a fund established by the U.S. Soccer Federation, which will both benefit players after the end of their soccer careers, and go towards charitable endeavors that aim to create more opportunities for women in the sport.

The details of the pay disparity that the players alleged are complex. The men’s team was compensated on a pay-for-play basis, with players earning more if they won, while many of the women were offered a base salary and smaller bonuses for winning. That difference was at the root of U.S. Soccer’s argument that it had not discriminated against the women’s team players.

Our national teams are represented by two different players associations who separately negotiate CBAs on behalf of their teams. The contracts in place are the result of extensive bargaining processes, shaped by the priorities of each of these groups of players

Photo courtesy of ESPN

The gap in bonus pay for men’s and women’s national team players stands out the most. The men made $5,000 per appearance in 2015, and an additional $8,166 per win, while the women made $3,600 per appearance, and an additional $1,500 per win. That means the men could lose every one of their games in a given year and make nearly as much as the women would if they won every match.

Under the settlement, which was initially announced in February, $22 million will be split into amounts proposed by the players. The remaining $2 million will be placed into a fund established by the U.S. Soccer Federation, which will both benefit players after the end of their soccer careers, and go towards charitable endeavors that aim to create more opportunities for women in the sport.

USWNT and Portland Thorns defender Becky Sauerbrunn, who is also the president of the women’s union (USWNTPA), told Sports Illustrated, “The gains we have been able to achieve are both because of the strong foundation laid by the generations of WNT players that came before the current team and through our union’s recent collaboration with our counterparts at the USNSTPA and leadership at U.S. Soccer.

“We hope that this agreement and its historic achievements in not only providing for equal pay but also in improving the training and playing environment for national team players will similarly serve as the foundation for continued growth of women’s soccer both in the United States and abroad,” she concluded.

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