US Women’s National Team’s equal pay contracts: PR stunt or genuine move towards equality?

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The US Soccer Federation (USSF) recently announced it had offered identical contracts to both its men’s and women’s national teams. This comes after a long-term legal battle between the USSF and the US Women’s National Team (USWNT), whose case for equal pay was originally dismissed by a judge in May 2020.   

The discrimination lawsuit was filed in March 2019, arguing that: “the female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts. This is true even though their performance has been superior to that of the male players.”

This was certainly a belief shared by fans of the women’s team as crowds chanted ‘Equal Pay!’ at the World Cup final in France when the USWNT won the tournament that Summer. 

As the most successful team in international women’s soccer, winning four World Cup titles and four Olympic gold medals, it seems indisputable that the female athletes deserve to be compensated for their achievements and paid well.  

Many others, however, have criticised the team’s claims that they are discriminated against, as the women’s team’s success (or rather their male equivalents lack there-of) actually meant the female players were earning more through winning bonuses and sponsorship deals.

Boosting all women’s national teams to the same level as men’s is surely the first step to promoting teams on a global platform.

This was one of the main reasons the judge pointed to in his decision to dismiss the case. Unfortunately, the judge held the fact that they had previously rejected a similar pay structure against them – if the women’s team had the same contracts as the men, they would have earned significantly more money.

This is important as there is generally far less money available to women’s soccer teams than men’s. For example, the USWNT received $4 million for winning the World Cup in 2019, whereas the French Men’s team won a staggering $400 million for their 2018 success.

Other sports competitions, such as the US Open, split their prize money equally between the men’s and women’s competitions, and it could be argued that real equality in sport would see football competitions do the same.

Yet, the share of interest and viewership in tennis is more evenly shared between genders than is the case for football. This supplies another argument against the team’s claims for equal pay.

The USWNT may, on paper, be more successful than the Men’s England squad (at least in terms of World Cup wins), the viewership and revenue that they generate when playing is in a completely different league.  

Although this argument may hold more weight in other countries like England, in the USA the popularity of women’s soccer actually exceeds the men’s game.

And yet, whilst the USWNT may be one of the highest funded female soccer teams in the world, the sport itself is still far from equality as a lack of funding means players in many women’s teams still need to maintain second jobs to make a sustainable living.

Boosting all women’s national teams to the same level as the men’s is surely the first step to promoting the teams on a global platform, and as such increasing interest and revenue.  

The announcement that equal contracts had been offered to both teams was ultimately met with disappointment from female players who called the move a ‘PR stunt’ and felt that the suggestion was ‘not good enough’.

In their view, it would ultimately reduce the women’s salaries instead of compensating them for their previous success.

Identical contracts would certainly suggest a move towards considering both male and female teams as equally valued and important. This was praised when the Irish Football Association announced they would be doing the same in August. Yet, you can understand the USWNT’s frustration whilst there are still no moves to change the vastly unequal World Cup prizes.

As self-proclaimed non-profit organisations, both FIFA and the USSF must see this as an opportunity to promote and improve the sport for all – something you would assume to be more important to them than revenue.  

It was hugely significant for the USWNT to stand up against the issue of equal pay, if only for the message it broadcast about women’s sports – women should not back down or settle when their work is seen as less valuable, competitive, or worthwhile.

The evidence points to the fact that female soccer players in the USWNT won’t be giving up until they are offered a more substantial display of equality.

Image: Lorie Shaull via flickr

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