All 28 members of the United States women’s soccer team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against United States Soccer for “institutionalized gender discrimination” on Friday, March 8. The women claim to have been experiencing discrimination for years and are taking their fight over pay equity and working conditions to a new level. They are not alone in their fight and should serve as an example for female athletes worldwide to fight for equality in sports.
The United States Soccer Federation manages both the women’s and men’s teams and controls everything from deciding their pay to how they will be traveling to their games. The women claim in the lawsuit that “this centralized management and control has permitted the USSF to perpetuate gender-based discrimination.” The women of the U.S. Women’s National Team are ranked No. 1 in the world and have held that position for 10 of the last 11 years. This team has won three World Cup titles and four Olympic gold medals, resulting in substantial profits for the USSF. The team has been significantly more successful in competition than the U.S. Men’s National Team, yet is paid less. They play the same game, put in the same effort and are much more successful, resulting in more generated revenue than the men, yet they are paid less. According to the lawsuit, in 2016, USSF budgeted for a combined net loss for both teams of $429,929, but largely because of the successes of the women’s team, the USSF revised its projections to a $17.7 million profit. The women state in the lawsuit that “the net profit for the WNT outstripped net profit for the MNT because the female players on the WNT were more successful in competition than the male players on the MNT — while being paid substantially less.”
The inequality is not limited to paychecks. The women are also fighting for equal playing and travel conditions. The MNT rarely plays on artificial turf. In 2017, only 2 percent of their games were played on artificial turf, while 21 percent of the WNT games were played on artificial surfaces. The USSF arranged for natural grass to be put over the artificial grass for eight of the MNT matches, three of those venues being the same venue the WNT played at but did not install temporary grass for the WNT. The interim president of the players’ union said, “Moving forward, we expect that U.S. Soccer will take into account our input on venue selection in addition to being more respectful of our players’ health and safety.” The women also complain of travel conditions because while they often fly coach, the men fly charter. In 2017, the USSF chartered flights for the MNT 17 times without doing so even once for the WNT.
This is not the first time that female athletes have stood up and protested gender discrimination. In 2007, Venus Williams, along with other female tennis stars, put pressure on Wimbledon to give female winners the same amount of prize money as men. More recently, in 2017, the women’s national hockey team threatened to boycott the world championship if USA Hockey didn’t increase the women’s wages. USA Hockey and the women’s team settled on a deal providing larger bonuses for winning medals and equal travel accommodations as the men’s team.
On the U.S. women’s soccer lawsuit, forward Christen Press said, “I think right now there’s really a women’s coming-together movement, and it’s happening in sport and outside of sport, and I think people all around the world are realizing how important it is to make these connections with people on the same journey as you.” These women are standing up for themselves and, in turn, inspiring other women.
The players of the women’s team made a huge stride for equality when, on Tuesday, March 26, Luna Bar announced a donation of $718,750, making the women’s World Cup bonuses equal to those of the men’s team. Before this donation, the women on the World Cup team were making $31,250 less per player than the men. Also, in early March, Adidas said it would pay its sponsored players on the Women’s World Cup winning team the same bonus as the members of the men’s team.
The members of the U.S. women’s soccer team are not the first to take drastic measures in a fight against unequal conditions, nor should they be the last. The members of the women’s national team, along with the other women who have pioneered the fight against gender inequality in athletics, should serve as an example to women and athletes everywhere. The road to equality is long and rough but can be overcome when women around the world find their voice and speak out against gender discrimination. Women deserve equal pay and working conditions and these women on the U.S. women’s soccer team have set a powerful example.