Five members of the U.S. women’s national soccer team have filed an official complaint against the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF), complaining they are victims of wage discrimination because they are paid far less than members of the male team.
Currently, players on the women’s team are paid about 40 percent of what players on the men’s team make. Besides raw salary differential, the complaint notes other ways the women are treated as inferior to men. For instance, men receive per-game bonuses if they play in more than 20 friendly matches during a given year, while women do not.
The women complain they are deserving of higher pay, especially because they are far more successful than the men’s team. While U.S. women won the 2015 Women’s World Cup, and previously won the competition two other times, the U.S. men’s team has never won a World Cup and is currently ranked just 30th in the world.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” longtime national team member Hope Solo said in a statement. “We are the best in the world, have three World Cup Championships, four Olympic Championships, and the USMNT get paid more to just show up, than we get paid to win major championships.”
“This is one of the strongest cases of gender discrimination I have ever seen,” the women’s attorney, Jeffrey Kessler, told USA Today. “We have a situation here where the women’s have outperformed the men on the field and in every other way yet earn fraction of what the men are paid. This is pretty open and shut case.”
There’s one very good reason the men’s team is higher paid: Men’s soccer is vastly more lucrative than women’s soccer. Many players on the men’s team earn six- or seven-figure salaries playing for professional soccer clubs around the world, while no comparable network of pro leagues exists for women (and the maximum salary for the National Women’s Soccer League is just $37,500). While the Women’s World Cup final in 2015 was the most-watched soccer game in U.S. history, the Men’s World Cup is a much more significant event worldwide.
Kessler’s claim that the women have “outperformed” the men could also be disputed. Women’s soccer is substantially less developed worldwide, and the level of competition is lower, which is unsurprising given the generally greater athleticism of men. Top women’s teams occasionally scrimmage against high school-aged boys and lose.
On the other hand, due to their current dominance, the U.S. women’s team itself creates more revenue than the men’s team. The women’s team generated $20 million more revenue than the men’s team, though that figure was doubtless boosted massively by the World Cup, according to 2015 financial figures produced by USSF.
The complaint is the first step of a possible investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which could lead to negotiations for equal pay. Such a legal maneuver wasn’t unexpected, as players have been feuding with USSF over pay for some time. There is even the looming possibility that the women’s team may go on strike for higher pay, an ominous possibility with the 2016 Olympics just a few months away.
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