The U.S. Women’s National Team has spent its entire existence not just battling opponents from abroad, but its own soccer federation. After a nearly three-year-long legal battle, U.S. Soccer settled in court with the U.S. women’s soccer team. The settlement, which was agreed to six years after five players, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Hope Solo, Carli Lloyd and Becky Sauerbrunn filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over inequality and pay, will pay $24 million in backpay to the players who signed onto the lawsuit, contingent upon the ratification of a new CBA.
It also never should have come to this. U.S. Soccer could have made sure the US Women were paid fairly six years ago. But the fight for progress has run concurrent with the USWNT’s battle for international soccer supremacy. During the inaugural 1991 World Cup, U.S. Soccer players received a meager $10 per diem and a $500 bonus to its non-collegiate athletes for winning the tournament. In 1995, a group of high-profile players held out of a pre-Olympic training camp held by U.S. Soccer due to a disagreement over bonus pay.
While the U.S. women’s team was being offered a bonus only for the gold, they wanted incremental pay for medals. The men’s contract guaranteed them bonuses per win. Their holdout also resulted in paid pregnancy leave, severance pay, additional performance bonuses, and paid nannies for two players who had small children.
By the 2015 World Cup, the women’s team was being paid a $72,000 annual salary by U.S. Soccer and could earn as much as $7,000 in bonuses to play in a minimum 20 exhibitions per year. Their male counterparts, who failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup earned a minimum of $5,000 per match with the potential to earn over $263,000.
The bonus structure will undoubtedly be a point of contention in the upcoming CBA negotiations between the USWNT and U.S. Soccer. The current bonus structure for making the World Cup team nets a men’s player $67,000, while women earn $37,500. There are massive pay disparities for wins and losses.
Under the USWNT’s current CBA, a win against a team outside the top 8 would give each player $5,250, and nothing for a loss. For the men, a loss to a team outside the top 25 would earn them a payment of $5000.
Those figures encapsulate how important this ruling was for the past, present, and future members of the USWNT. Prior to the beginning of the pandemic, women’s games were generating $1.9 million more in revenue than the men’s from 2016 to 2018.
So why now? Back in May of 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California delivered a massive victory to U.S. Soccer by dismissing the players’ arguments that they were systematically underpaid by U.S. Soccer in comparison with the men’s national team. The Women’s’ World Cup will take place just over a year from now and their CBA is due to expire on March 31.
U.S. Soccer has taken a shellacking in the public sphere, but above all they needed the women to compete, defend their gold, and generate positive headlines along the way. U.S. Soccer has been swimming in a cesspool of bad press since the USWNT filed the gender discrimination lawsuit on International Women’s Day in 2019. The dispute even carried into international play, where fans chanted, “Equal Pay” at the 2019 World Cup final. The relationship with U.S. Soccer and the women’s side isn’t hunky dory yet.
Fewer than six months ago, the USWNT issued a letter accusing U.S. Soccer of failing to do the bare minimum to protect players from abusive NWSL coaches. U.S. Soccer founded the National Women’s Soccer League, managed it, and licensed the coaches. In September of 2021, the U.S. Soccer-run NWSL forced out multiple coaches who’d been accused of sexual coercion and abuse but retained their jobs. It’s commissioner and U.S. Soccer board of directors member, Lisa Baird, resigned in disgrace after it was revealed that she failed to act on multiple allegations of abuse against players in the U.S.’ top-division professional women’s soccer league.
The backlash was so severe that FIFA opened an investigation into some of the allegations.
The settlement also includes a promise from U.S. Soccer to equalize pay between the men’s and women’s national teams for all competitions, including the World Cup.
Today’s settlement is short of the $66.7 million the players sought, but for both parties it ends an ugly standoff. U.S. Soccer’s rotten year and a FIFA investigation has further eroded their standing. It was also in their best interests to settle than risk a repeat of the aforementioned 1995 holdout. The U.S. Women’s National Team has won gold at four Olympics Games and World Cups, but this settlement was arguably their biggest victory yet.