Suppose they scheduled a World Cup Women’s Soccer game and nobody came? For instance, the defending champion U.S. team hasn’t threatened a boycott — yet. On International Women’s day, 28 members of the squad sued the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) for violations of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, over sex discrimination in pay, and over the condition of playing fields, medical treatment, coaching and travel arrangements.
Relations between this world champion squad and U.S. Soccer have been dicey for years. In 2016, four of these players, Megan Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan and Becky Sauerbrunn, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) over the same issues. This resulted in the players getting a 30 percent raise. That left them making one third of what the male team’s players make. To add insult to injury, the women’s team has to win games to get their bonuses, and the men’s team gets bonuses whenever they play, win or lose.
Tired excuses. Throughout this battle, the USSF has maintained that “market realities are such that women don’t deserve to be paid equal to men.’’ Provocative, but untrue. After their 2015 World Cup win over Japan, the women went on a “victory tour” that brought in $23 million after expenses. For 2016, the women turned in a profit of $6.6 million, the men only $2 million. In 2017, the USSF’s own projections figured the women earning $5 million and the men losing a million. According to Rich Nichols, who negotiated the Women’s Soccer Association contract in 2016, “women are the economic engine of U.S. soccer. The men are a losing proposition despite the fact that U.S. Soccer tries to sell the story that men drive the revenue. The women drive the revenue, period.”
U.S. Soccer claims that over a four-year period the men will bring in more money because of the World Cup. France earned $38 million for capturing the men’s title last year while the 2019 women’s winner is projected to win about $6 million. A top-10 finish by a men’s team would garner more revenue. But for the U.S. it’s a moot point. The men didn’t even qualify for the last world cup. In fact, the U.S. men’s team hasn’t finished in the top three since 1991, the first year there was a women’s tournament. The U.S. women’s team has won three tournaments and four Olympic gold medals since then.
Team strength rooted in social activism. The women’s team has demanded equal pay and treatment for decades — boycotting exhibition games after winning the world cup in 2001, refusing to play on artificial turf because of injuries. Megan Rapinoe was the first white athlete to take a knee in support of Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the national anthem. Tennis great and equal pay advocate Serena Williams has said the women’s fight is “for the future of women’s soccer.” The Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) Players Association has asked the soccer players for assistance, and offered support, and the union representing the men’s team’s players have expressed their support.
Soccer hall-of-famers Julie Foudy and Mia Hamm have advised the U.S. women’s hockey team because they faced similar problems. Now, with the aroma of political activism wafting through the air, the WNBA may themselves go on strike next season.
Sports journalist Ray Murphy can be contacted at email@example.com.
PHOTO: Jamie Smed