Women's soccer wins equal-pay victory

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Megan Rapinoe — Photo by Benoit Tessier / Reuters
Megan Rapinoe — Photo by Benoit Tessier / Reuters

Wednesday, May 18, marked a historic day in sport history. The US women's soccer team was finally victorious in their hard-fought match against gender-based pay discrimination. The US Soccer Federation officially signed collective bargaining agreements that guarantee that players for both the women's and men's soccer teams will receive the same pay for international games.

This win comes after years of hard-fought legal battles. In 2016, five members of the US women's national soccer team (USWNT) filed a federal equal-pay complaint. They noted that despite being the most successful team in international women's soccer and bringing home a World Cup victory the previous year, they were still paid less than their male counterparts, who, in comparison, did not even qualify for the tournament in 2018.

When nothing came out of the complaint, the team fought back harder, filing a federal lawsuit in 2020 accusing US Soccer of institutionalized gender discrimination for its refusal to provide equal pay. The federal judge who oversaw their case ruled against the women's claims, stating that they were receiving equal pay because they were making slightly more than the men's team over the past year.

In response to that decision, the USWNT released a statement, which said in part, "Because the district court used a total-compensation standard, it completely ignored the fact that the players' pay depends on performance. The only way the women could achieve the same overall pay as the men [is] by performing much better than them. That is not equal pay for equal work."

Indeed, the reason the women's and men's salaries looked so similar in 2020 was because the women's team had just won the World Cup in 2019, and the international prize money was lumped into their yearly assets. The men's team's salary came only from minor domestic and international games.

Recognizing that the ruling was unjust and that the women's team deserved better, the US men's national team (USMNT) joined them in the union dispute. In late 2021 the USMNT agreed to share some of their earnings by pooling their World Cup bonus money with the women's team. This recognition from the men's team that the women were deserving of more pay prompted the US soccer federation to reconsider the differing contracts made with the two teams, effectively equalizing World Cup payments.

US Soccer President Cindy Cone praised the new agreement, saying in a statement, "No other country has ever done this. I think everyone should be proud of what we've accomplished here. It truly is historic."

Now players hope to inspire FIFA (the international governing body) to enact similar equal-pay strategies to benefit other countries' women's teams that have continuously outperformed their male counterparts.

Players have also been speaking out in praise of the historic victory. Becky Sauerbrunn, a defender for the national team and president of the USWNT Players Association, praised the ratification of the collective bargaining agreement, writing, "The accomplishments in this CBA [are] a testament to the incredible efforts of the WNT players on and off the field." While Sauerbrunn is satisfied, she also notes that "it's hard to get so, so excited about something we should have had all along."

Midge Purce, Megan Rapinoe, and President Joe Biden — Photo by Jonathan Ernst / Reuters  

"I think what this CBA does is it finally creates that 'one nation, one team,'" said USWNT forward Midge Purce. "And I think that it's brought us together under that ideology that we've been chasing after for a long time."

Megan Rapinoe, a Seattle local and the face of the equal-pay movement, praised the contract as a "huge win" and said the CBA means "[we] will have equal pay on everything moving forward."

"It's honestly kind of surreal," she continued. "I feel like I need to take a step back. We've all been in the trenches of it for so long. I think I honestly don't even understand how monumental this is." On top of the CBA win, US Soccer agreed to provide $22 million in back pay to the women athletes to settle the discrimination lawsuit out of court.

While pay will still fluctuate based on individuals, injuries, and the number of international games played, it is looking like the women's team will finally be making what they deserve.