Women’s team gets a bad deal


Imagine two national soccer teams. One team flounders on the world stage, consistently losing to middling opponents, never advancing past the round of 16 in the World Cup. The other has quickly become an international powerhouse, winning three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals. despite existing for just two and a half decades of existence. Assuming the teams’ home countries have access to equal resources, which team do you think gets paid more?

If you said the first team, you just might belong to the U.S. Soccer Federation. And the difference appears to be based on gender.

At least that’s what the women on the U.S. national soccer team are claiming. Five members recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of the team against U.S. Soccer through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming wage discrimination. The team argued that they earned as little as 40% of what the men made, despite consistently outperforming them on the international stage. The women have placed first, second or third in every World Cup since its inception in 1991, including three wins. Their most recent accomplishment was a stunning 5-2 victory over Japan in the 2015 World Cup in Canada. Meanwhile, the men as recently as March lost 2-0 to Guatemala, their first loss to the country since 1988.

This isn’t the first time the team has spoken out against gender inequality in the sport. More than 70 players from 17 national teams, including many from the U.S., signed a petition criticizing FIFA for hosting the 2015 World Cup on artificial turf fields instead of grass (Turf fields have been known to increase the likelihood of injury as well as affect the speed and quality of play.). They argued that the men’s teams would have gone on strike before playing under such conditions. But FIFA refused to budge. On their recent victory tour following the tournament, the U.S. women actually refused to play a match in Hawaii because the field was made of turf.

The discrimination lawsuit is their most recent fight with the sport’s administrators. And there is strong evidence in favor of the women: U.S. Soccer requires both the men’s and women’s teams to play 20 exhibition games a year, but the two are compensated differently. Women earn $3,600 per game, with an additional $1,350 bonus if they win. The men, on the other hand, make $5,000 a game, with an average bonus of $8,166 for wins. This means that even if the women win all of their games and the men lose all of theirs, the men would still make about $1,000 more than the women for the year.

World Cup bonuses are also skewed in favor of the men. In fact, the men’s team earned $9 million for their performance in the 2014 World Cup, despite not advancing past the round of 16. The women’s takeaway for winning the championship? Just $2 million.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” said goalkeeper Hope Solo. “We are the best in the world, have three World Cup championships, four Olympic championships… [The men] get paid more to just show up than we get paid to win major championships.”

Many people — the U.S. Soccer Federation included — have argued that athletes should be paid based on the amount of money they bring in — after all, better players get paid more, even on the same team. It wouldn’t make sense for a third-string benchwarmer to earn the same as a LeBron James.

But women have no control over how much they make, only how they perform. They do not receive the same coverage or attention as the men.

Besides, the women’s team isn’t exactly struggling to find an audience. It’s true that the men generally earn more in revenue and attendance. But thanks to their success in the World Cup, the women actually earned more revenue than the men in 2015. And their victory over Japan in the championship game drew 25.4 million viewers, more than any other English-language soccer game in the country — men’s or women’s.

And it’s not like U.S. Soccer is a private enterprise; it’s the governing body of soccer in the U.S. and a member organization of FIFA. The two teams put in the same amount of work — and only the women get results. Their pay should reflect that.

The outcome of the lawsuit remains to be determined. But one thing is for sure: it is money that will make the difference. This means the team’s fate ultimately rests with us, the fans. So if you’re a true soccer enthusiast, the best way to support is to tune in, dress out, and show up to cheer on the best women’s soccer team in the world.

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