EXPLAINER: US Soccer’s equal pay play and what it means
The U.S. Soccer Federation has agreed to pay its men’s and women’s national teams equally in a historic move that was years in the making.
The collective bargaining agreements announced Wednesday include identical pay structures and equal distribution of World Cup prize money, something that had been a major sticking point.
The men’s CBA expired in December 2018 and the women’s contract expired at the end of March, but talks continued after the federation and the women’s team agreed to settle a gender discrimination lawsuit brought by some players in 2019. The settlement was contingent on the federation reaching agreements that equalized pay and bonuses between the two teams.
Those deals, which run through 2028, will likely have a far-reaching impact in the years to come.
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
In 2016, a group of five players — Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, Hope Solo and Carli Lloyd — filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming wage discrimination by the federation.
The filing was followed by a players’ lawsuit in federal court in 2019. After years of filings and hearings, the sides reached an agreement in February, with the USSF agreeing to pay $24 million — $22 million to the players and $2 million to establish a fund to benefit players after their careers. That deal was contingent on reaching a new CBA.
But the fight goes back as far as 1995, when a group of high-profile players that included Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers and Kristine Lilly were locked out of a pre-Olympic training camp by the USSF because of a disagreement over bonus pay. The federation had offered a bonus only for the gold medal, the women wanted incremental pay for other medals. The men were given bonuses per win.
The dispute was quickly settled, but it was the first of many actions — some subtle, others not so — that the women’s team took over the years to secure equitable pay and treatment.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Among the biggest components in the CBAs is the equitable distribution of World Cup prize money. There are many moving parts, but the money earned by both teams in soccer’s most prestigious tournament going forward will be pooled, and then divided among the players, with U.S. Soccer taking 10% off the top in 2022-23 and 20% in 2026-27.
The men’s team has already qualified for the World Cup in Qatar this year. The women’s team will take part in the CONCACAF W Championship this summer in Monterrey, Mexico, which will determine four berths in the 2023 Women’s World Cup, cohosted by Australia and New Zealand.
National federations earn prize money during World Cups based on how far they progress within the tournament. The U.S. women have won their past two World Cups, while the men did not qualify for the 2018 tournament in Russia.
FIFA earmarked $400 million for the 2018 men’s tournament, including $38 million to champion France, and $30 million for the 2019 women’s tournament, including $4 million to the champion United States. FIFA has increased the total to $440 million for the 2022 men’s World Cup, with the winner getting $42 million. FIFA President Gianni Infantino has proposed doubling the women’s prize money to $60 million for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, in which FIFA has increased the teams from 24 to 32.
GAINS AND LOSSES
If the top-ranked U.S. women’s team continues to dominate in the World Cup, players for the men’s team will get a share of that prize money. The men’s qualification for Qatar ensures that the women will also benefit.
U.S. Soccer gets $10.5 million from FIFA for simply qualifying for the men’s World Cup in Qatar: a minimum of $9 million in prize money and $1.5 million for preparation. In contrast, U.S. Soccer received just $4 million for winning the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France plus $480,000 for preparation.
The women gave up guaranteed salaries in the new agreement. Starting in 2005, the women had included a base salary in their CBAs, while the men’s contracts were based on a pay-for-play model, with earnings for appearances, wins and draws. The women’s national team players will be compensated in the same way as the men going forward.
The men gain child care during all training camps and matches, something the women’s team has had for 25 years.
Players from both teams gain individual retirement funds and will share commercial revenue from tickets for the teams’ matches controlled by the USSF, with bonuses for sellouts. Each team will also receive a portion of broadcast, partner and sponsor revenue.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR THE REST OF THE WORLD
The U.S. women’s fight for equal pay has already spread across the globe. And it’s likely other nations will follow.
But the key difference is that no other federation has agreed to split FIFA prize money, considered one of the biggest obstacles to true equality.
In 2017, Norway committed to paying its men’s and women’s national teams comparable salaries. The move came shortly after star player Ada Hegerberg stepped away from the team because of inequitable treatment. The first female Ballon d’Or winner recently rejoined Norway.
The Dutch federation agreed in 2019 to raise the compensation for the women’s team to equal that of the men’s by 2023. Later that year, Australia’s women won equal pay and similar benefits as players on the men’s team, as well as revenue sharing.
The national federations in New Zealand, Brazil and England have also made moves to achieve pay equity.
“Things just don’t move as fast as we would like them to move,” said USSF President Cindy Parlow Cone, a former national team player. “But I think that is the next step is for other federations around the world to look to see what we have done and start doing it themselves, and then also encouraging the confederations and then as well as FIFA to equalize all prize money.”
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