In a battle that has been raging both on and off the field, the United States world champion women’s soccer team is filing a lawsuit against the United States District Court in Los Angeles, claiming the lack of pay equity between men’s and women’s teams has gone too far. The suit was filed as a gender discrimination lawsuit on March 8, 2019.
Last fall, the FIFA Council President approved a motion that increased the prize pool for the Women’s World Cup, raising the winnings from the previous $15 million to $30 million. However, this is still a long stretch in achieving pay equality, when the women’s players have fought for years to close the gender pay gap in professional sports.
In the lawsuit, backed by 28 players, the team describes and disseminates the “institutionalized gender discrimination,” and details how this issue not only affects their take-home pay, but many other aspects of the world championship team’s abilities to train.
In short, the lawsuit focuses on the idea that the United States Soccer Federation (U.S.S.F.) claims that its mission is to “promote and govern soccer in the United States in order to make it the [dominant] sport recognized for excellence, participation, spectator appeal, international competition, and gender equality,” with the players claiming that the U.S.S.F. has failed in their mission to promote gender equality based on the disparity between female and male players’ pay. The players also felt as though the U.S.S.F. was unduly profiting off the team’s success, as the women’s national team was extremely successful. The U.S.S.F., as the employer of the women’s national team was able to make a significant profit off the team’s success, and in fact the women’s national team made more money in the concerning period than the men’s national team made for the U.S.S.F.
The athletes noted that while the pay gap affects their paychecks, the amount of money allotted to the women’s national team often dictates where and how often they play, the medical treatment that they receive, the quality of coaching they receive and even the travel experience when heading to matches.
It’s not like the world hasn’t heard about the gender pay gap before. Across many professions, the gender pay gap plays a huge part in almost every woman’s life. It also affects many other professional athletes, with American hockey players, Canadian professional soccer players, and Women’s National Basketball Association (W.N.B.A.) players all reaching out to try to gain wage equity in their field.
The pay gap also affects people’s everyday experiences and leaves professionals no choice but to fight back, as soccer great Megan Rapinoe noted to the New York Times.
“I think to be on this team is to understand these issues … I think we’ve always — dating back to forever — been a team that stood up for itself and fought hard for what it felt it deserved and tried to leave the game in a better place,” Rapinoe said.
The lawsuit demonstrates just how big of an issue the wage gap is, even in a country where women’s soccer has gained loyal fan support as well as support through investments and resources. The United States women’s national soccer team is a four-time Olympic gold medalist team, standing out in the soccer world. Even with their successes, it has been hard to maintain financial support, when compared to the financial compensation and support that the high-profile men’s soccer team gets.
The amount of noise that the women’s team has made has not gone unnoticed, either. After the last World Cup, there was an overwhelming amount of global support for wage equality in professional sports. The national team in Spain finally ousted their coach, saying that their team’s commitment to success outweighed their coach’s abilities. Many members of the Brazilian national team quit last year when their female coach was threatened with replacement by a male counterpart. The U.S. team’s stance on gender pay gaps has also encouraged many players, like those from Argentina and Colombia, to demand equal pay, and in the case of the Norwegian team, the demand was met.
“We very much believe it is our responsibility, not only for our team and for future U.S. players, but for players around the world — and frankly for 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,” Rapinoe said.