As the stars of women’s football stared at their laptop screens on Monday night and were told about the new employment contract, the numbers kept rising. A few thousand dollars here. Tens of thousands of dollars there. Soon the numbers were in the millions.
What they added, the players all knew, was something many of them had pursued for most of their careers: equal pay.
That reality arrived on Wednesday in historic contracts with the United States Soccer Federation that will ensure, for the first time, that soccer players representing the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams will receive the same pay when playing games. and international competitions.
In addition to equal pay rates for individual matches, the agreements include a provision, believed to be the first of its kind, whereby teams will pool unequal payments US Soccer receives from world football’s governing body FIFA. , for their participation in the quadrennial world cup. Starting with the 2022 men’s tournament and the 2023 women’s World Cup, this money will be shared equally between members of the two teams.
“No other country has ever done this,” US Soccer president Cindy Cone said of the World Cup equalization deal. “I think everyone should be really proud of what we’ve achieved here. It’s really, really historic.
The deals were struck just over six years after a group of World Cup-winning U.S. women’s national team stars launched a campaign to overcome what they said were years of wage discrimination from the share of American football against its players. The players argued that they had been paid less than their male counterparts for decades, despite winning world championships and Olympic gold medals.
The fight over per diems and paychecks eventually turned into a federal lawsuit in which the women accused US Soccer of “institutionalized gender discrimination.” While women lost in federal court in 2020, when a judge ruled against their core demands, they finally won their equal pay victory at the bargaining table, with one last helping hand from the men’s team.
It was the men’s team players, in fact, who paved the way for a deal late last year when they privately agreed to split some of the millions of dollars in World Cup bonuses. world they have traditionally received by pooling it with the smaller payouts the women receive from their own championship.
This split could see the two teams pool and split $20 million or more as early as next year. This will be on top of matching payments which are expected to average $450,000 a year – and double or more in years when World Cup bonus money is added.
For the players of the women’s team, Wednesday’s agreements were as much a relief as a triumph. Becky Sauerbrunn, one of five players who signed the original complaint in 2016, admitted: “It’s hard to be so excited about something we should have had all along.”
Over the years, as the parties battled it out in courtrooms and negotiation sessions, the dispute produced sometimes caustic – and personal – disagreements over private life, equality at work and basic equityand relied (and doubted) on a disparate chorus of presidential candidates, star athletes and Hollywood celebrities — they are not all favorable of the women’s campaign for pay equity.
The pay difference between men and women has been one of the most contentious issues in football in recent years, especially after American women won back-to-back world championships in 2015 and 2019 and men did not qualify for the 2018 tournament. Over the years, the women’s team, which includes some of the most recognizable athletes in the world, has intensified and amplified its fight in court records, media interviews and on the biggest stages of sport.
The dispute has always been a complex issue, with different contractsunequal prize money and other financial quirks that blur salary distinctions between men’s and women’s teams and complicate the ability of national governing bodies like US Soccer to resolve differences.
Yet the federation eventually committed to a fairer system. To achieve this, US Soccer will distribute millions more dollars to its top players through a complicated calculation of increased match bonuses, pooled prize money and new revenue-sharing agreements. These deals will give each team a share of the tens of millions of dollars in commercial revenue that US Soccer receives each year from sponsors, broadcasters and other partners.
Labor peace will be expensive: US Soccer has pledged to pay a single game for most games of $18,000 per player for games won, and up to $24,000 per game for wins at some major tournaments – cementing the status of American men and women as two of the highest paid national teams in the world. And the federation will give the men and women of these teams 90% of the money it receives from FIFA to send teams to the next two World Cups.
The prize money split is therefore a notable concession on the part of the American men, who have already received the bulk of these multimillion-dollar payouts by US Soccer, and a potential seven-figure windfall for the women. The 24 teams at the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, for example, competed for a $30 million prize pool; the 32 men’s teams that will face off in Qatar in November will share $450 million.
Timeline: The United States Women’s National Soccer Team fight for equal pay
“When we came together as a group, we certainly saw that there would be no way forward without equalizing the prize money,” said Walker Zimmerman, men’s team defender and member. of the leadership group of his union. He said the process of persuading the rest of his teammates to share the money involved “difficult conversations, a lot of listening, a lot of learning”.
The team’s willingness to part with some of the money, however, removed what the federation and the players had long considered the only seemingly insurmountable obstacle to a deal.
“They were real champions of that,” Cone said of the men’s team’s embrace of equalizing pay more broadly and prize money in particular. “It’s not easy to give up the money they give up. To know it’s the right thing to do, and then to step in and do it, I think they should be applauded.
While several of the women praised the men’s drive to reduce the biggest pay gaps and cited this as a major reason for the new contracts, veterans of the fight for equal pay – and the CBA talks – were more measured in their reactions.
“I feel very proud that there will be girls who will grow up and see what we have achieved and recognize their worth instead of having to fight to see it themselves,” said Midge Purce, board member of collective bargaining of the players’ association.
“But my dad always told me, ‘You don’t get a reward for doing what you’re supposed to do,'” she added. “And paying men and women equally is what you’re supposed to do.”
Despite its cost, the new equal pay policy is of incalculable value to all parties involved, as it will end a six-year battle that has damaged the federation’s reputation, threatened US Soccer’s relationship with important sponsors and racked up millions of dollars in legal fees from all sides of the fight.
Resolving the fight amicably, rather than in court, could make it easier for the federation to attract new sponsors and recreate ties with its most prominent players. And by offering teams a share of its commercial revenue, US Soccer has essentially incentivized its biggest stars to act as partners in finding new ways to increase those revenue streams.
And salaries for men and women still won’t be quite equal: injuries, coaching decisions and even the number of games played by each team will continue to affect what individual players can earn. But for America’s most high-profile female players, the deals could soon pay immediate payday by unlocking a $24 million settlement, largely for salary arrears, which they reached with US Soccer in February to settle the sex discrimination lawsuit. US Soccer had made this one-time payment conditional on the conclusion of new collective agreements formalizing equal pay between the teams.
With the new deals approved, US Soccer can now seek judge’s approval to begin cutting checks.
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