By Andrew Warshaw
July 11 – Now that they have captured the hearts of their nation – and millions more fans worldwide – by retaining their World Cup trophy, the US women’s squad are turning their attention back to their potentially far more arduous legal fight for equal pay.
The players may have been welcomed home as national heroes at a huge tickertape ceremony in New York but that has only served to re-awaken their case against the U.S. Soccer Federation alleging gender-based discrimination.
Before the World Cup started, both sides in the dispute agreed to meet for meditation talks and that will now be the focus with the World Cup trophy safely locked away for another four years.
Chants of “equal pay” that pervaded last weekend’s final against the Netherlands continued when the players returned home with fans maintaining their support of the team’s demands.
US Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro’s remarks on the steps of City Hall were drowned out by protests from the crowd which he immediately acknowledged.
“We hear you, we believe in you, and we’re committed to doing right by you,” Cordeiro said. “US Soccer has invested more in women’s soccer than any country in the world, and we will continue to invest more in women’s soccer than any country in the world.”
“We believe at US Soccer that all female athletes deserve fair and equitable pay. And together, I believe we can get this done. Because as this team has taught us, being the greatest isn’t just about how you play on the field – it’s about what you stand for off the field.”
Megan Rapinoe, addressing the crowd after Cordeiro, thanked him for his support and said she believes he’s committed to fixing the gender pay gap.
“I think he’s with us, I think he’s on the right side of things, I think he’s gonna make things right,” said the outspoken Rapinoe, very much the public face of equal pay campaign.
Equitable pay is not, however, the same as equal pay and this could prove to be a major sticking point when mediation talks begin.
Despite record TV ratings, prize money for this year’s women’s tournament was $30 million compared to the $400m for the men in 2018. While each member of the U.S. women’s squad is expected to earn about $250,000 for retaining the World Cup title, including public appearances, by comparison had the American men’s team won their World Cup – they didn’t even qualify but it’s still worth pointing out – they would have each earned about four times that figure according to US reports.
Throw in the fact that more than 14 million viewers in the USA watched last weekend’s final – making it the most popular match on English-language TV in the country since the previous Women’s World Cup final – and you get some idea of why the case has generated such passions.
If mediation talks fail, the worry is that a lengthy court case would be inevitable yet while it would be taking place, in all likelihood no increase in pay would happen. That, in turn, could potentially lead to the players going on strike with the next Olympics not so far away.
“At this moment of tremendous pride for America, the sad equation remains all too clear, and Americans won’t stand for it anymore,” Molly Levinson, the players’ spokeswoman, was quoted as saying after Sunday’s win. “These athletes generate more revenue and garner higher TV ratings but get paid less simply because they are women. It is time for the Federation to correct this disparity once and for all.”
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