Starting Thursday the United States women’s national soccer team will host the inaugural Tournament of Nations, which also features three other international powerhouses – Australia, Brazil and Japan. While the tournament should feature great competition, an even more important soccer drama is playing out off the field – the battle over fair treatment for female players.
When the U.S. women won the 2015 World Cup, the team earned $2 million from FIFA, soccer’s international governing body. That’s enough to buy 2,355 premium tickets to see the Broadway musical “Hamilton,” or 57 Teslas. It seems like a lot, and it is.
But it’s less than a quarter of the bonus the U.S. men’s team earned during the 2014 World Cup after losing in the first round of knockout play, and more than 17 times less than the German men’s team earned for winning.
This pay inequality cannot continue. When the U.S. women play Australia on Thursday, fans should ensure U.S. Soccer and FIFA, soccer’s national and international governing bodies, know fair treatment is the price of continued support.
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I played soccer for 11 years in Chevy Chase, Maryland, where girls’ soccer clubs are exceptionally popular. I wore jerseys of U.S. stars – Mia Hamm, Abby Wambach and Alex Morgan. Initially I simply enjoyed watching the U.S. women’s games, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become angry at the team’s unequal treatment.
The U.S. team’s record of success is unrivaled in women’s soccer. The U.S. won the first-ever Women’s World Cup in 1991, and again in 1999 and 2015. They performed well at the 2016 Summer Olympics and are ranked second in the world.
In contrast, the U.S. men have never won a World Cup, didn’t qualify for the 2016 Olympics, and are ranked 23rd worldwide. Should they ever win a World Cup, they would earn millions more in bonuses from U.S. Soccer than the women did for winning in 2015. This bonus is based primarily on FIFA’s distribution of prize money, which is skewed toward the men. Although the men’s World Cup generates more revenue than the women’s, the U.S. women’s team has been more profitable overall in recent years than the U.S. men’s team. And there’s an audience for the women: 26.7 million people watched the U.S. women win the 2015 World Cup.
Women’s national teams worldwide receive unequal resources during travel and competition, and unequal access to quality fields. The 2015 Women’s World Cup was played on artificial turf, which players deem detrimental to their safety and skills. Every men’s World Cup has been played on natural grass.
Fortunately, the U.S women’s team is challenging U.S. Soccer and FIFA to improve equality in soccer. Until recently, U.S. Soccer paid female players $60 in per diem payments while paying the men $75. Also, male players earned 25 percent more per game than female players, and over double what the women earned in as a bonus for winning.
In March 2016, five U.S. female players filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission claiming wage discrimination by U.S. Soccer. In April, both sides agreed to a collective bargaining agreement. The women’s team will earn more money per game and per win – although still less than the men – and players will receive higher per diems and better accommodations.
While this new agreement is a great step forward, disparities in earnings and treatment between the men and women players persists. The agreement is limited to U.S. Soccer’s treatment of the U.S. women’s team, excluding women’s national teams from other countries and excluding FIFA, which can continue to treat and pay women differently.
Negotiations between players and soccer’s governing bodies will continue. Meanwhile, fans are crucial. We can encourage our daughters, sisters and female friends to join sports teams, and fight back against gender norms that have pushed girls and women away from athletics. We can support girls’ and women’s sports as fans, and by purchasing merchandise advertising our enthusiasm for our favorite teams and players. Finally, we must expect – and demand – equal pay for equal work.
Sustained action can help make positive, long overdue changes. Let’s raise our voices when the U.S. women’s team takes the field later this month. With fans engaged, U.S. Soccer and FIFA must make a decision: Treat the women’s teams equally or lose our support.
Rachel Berlowe Binder is a Chevy Chase, Md., native and a rising Duke University junior majoring in political science.