Sports

Equal Pay Talks Between the Women’s National Team and U.S. Soccer Have Broken Down

A woman holds a sign that says "Equal Pay" in a crowd of USWNT supporters.
A crowd at the U.S. Women’s National Team’s ticker tape parade in New York City, on July 10.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Members of the U.S. Women’s National Team have announced that their talks with the U.S. Soccer Federation over issues of equal pay have ended without resolution. According to the players, the women will now look to a federal trial to resolve their dispute.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, Molly Levinson, a spokeswoman for the players, said they had hoped the meeting with the federation in New York this week would finally find a resolution to their years-long conflict. “We entered this week’s mediation with representatives of U.S.S.F. full of hope,” Levinson said. “Today we must conclude these meetings sorely disappointed in the federation’s determination to perpetuate fundamentally discriminatory workplace conditions and behavior. It is clear that U.S.S.F., including its board of directors and President Carlos Cordeiro, fully intend to continue to compensate women players less than men. They will not succeed.”

Twenty-eight players filed a federal lawsuit against U.S. Soccer in March, alleging “institutionalized gender discrimination” related to pay disparities, as well inferior resources and investment. The timing of the lawsuit, coming just as the team was preparing for the World Cup, was bold. It gave the team leverage but also added pressure to perform well in the tournament. During the World Cup, U.S. Soccer attempted to keep the conflict out of the public eye, and while it took some bruising after a couple statements responding to players, the federation invested heavily in promoting and celebrating the champion team and privately agreed to mediation after the World Cup ended.

In July, U.S. Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro released a statement that seemed to suggest the federation was likely unwilling to make the kinds of concessions the women were seeking. In the statement, Cordeiro asserted that U.S. Soccer paid the women more than the men—a claim that, while technically if narrowly true, did not factor in bonuses and prize money available to men. The men receive those payments from a mix of sources, including U.S. Soccer and a significant amount from FIFA. FIFA pays out much smaller prizes to the women. (The men’s World Cup offers $38 million to the winning team’s federation, while the women’s awards only $4 million.) So even when the men’s team performs worse than the women’s team, as it often does, the men walk away with more money than the women. As such, U.S. Soccer is blaming FIFA for many disparities. The federation has also pointed to the different pay structures (negotiated separately) for the two teams to justify the lower earnings for women and highlight its own investment in women’s soccer outside of its mandate, including substantial funding for the professional National Women’s Soccer League.

But the women and their supporters immediately challenged the federation on its math, and members of the U.S. Men’s National Team voiced their support for the women, arguing that the different pay structures were no excuse. The men also criticized the federation’s argument that women bring in less revenue—a claim that is virtually impossible to prove or disprove, given that the team’s marketing value is hard to quantify and sponsorship and broadcast rights are sold in bundles with the men’s team—as “downplaying” the champion team’s “contributions to the sport.”

U.S. Soccer for its part blamed the breakdown in talks Wednesday on “an aggressive and ultimately unproductive approach.” The statement also accused the women of trying to “perpetuate confusion” by spreading misleading information. “We value our players and have continually shown that, by providing them with compensation and support that exceeds any other women’s team in the world,” the statement said.

Now that the showdown in court appears imminent, the women have said they will embrace a jury trial. But given that both parties stand to lose from a trial, it’s possible they might still be able to settle. For now, with the World Cup over, the federation appears to be more openly campaigning for its cause. It has already done so in Congress: In early August, Politico reported that U.S. Soccer hired lobbyists to convince lawmakers that the women’s claims were inaccurate.