The US team’s dispute over pay is a fight for women all over the world | Suzanne Wrack | Football

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When discussing the breakdown in pay and compensation talks between US Soccer and the US Women’s National Team, the presenter on ABC’s Good Morning America said to Megan Rapinoe and Christen Press: “What if you lose? Do you have a plan?” Quick as a flash, Press quipped: “I think you’re asking the wrong people ‘what if we lose?’” Boom. Dropped mic.

Prior to that, Press had said their equal pay talks were “actually about women everywhere being treated respectfully in the workplace”, later adding: “When we show up to a game that we get compensated the same way that a man would for showing up to the same game because on this issue, there is no social equality for women without financial equality.”

It is hard to overstate the importance of them broadening the conversation. Of seeing the benefits of their battle to every woman in any and every workplace. It is no accident that the clip of their segment on the flagship morning show has gone viral, because it speaks to women – young, old, rich, poor – in the same way it did me, by saying that regardless of circumstance, you have a right to be working in an equitable environment and you have the power to do something about it.

The way the team has collectively organised and operated is also acting as a blueprint for women footballers across the globe. The USWNT may have the leverage others do not – four World Cups and a team generating greater revenue than the men’s equivalent – but the very fact that, despite those things, they are still having to battle shows that this is an ideological war, not one based on the arguments used by the “when they bring in as much as the men they can be paid the same” brigade. Exposing that myth is important because it proves that this is not about money, and if other federations chose to take a stand on gender inequality, regardless of who generates what, they could.

We are somewhat used to the take-no-shit swagger of Rapinoe (and she’s very likeable, as far am I’m concerned) but on GMA was a more measured and serious co-captain. The team have been very open about where the conversation needs to start – “We won’t accept anything less than equal pay,” Rapinoe reiterated, before adding: “People in general are very supportive. In 2019 I don’t think equal pay is a very novel idea. I think people see how successful we’ve been and I think that they think we should be compensated for that.”

This highlights exactly where US Soccer is losing the battle. Because while football is not removed from society and very much reflects the attitudes within it, the views it is choosing to reflect by standing firm in this fight are the views of a fast-shrinking and increasingly sidelined minority. The governing body has the power to progressively influence things; instead it is not just lagging behind but actively attempting to shackle the sport to one of the most outdated, conservative and divisive employment practices there is.





“We won’t accept anything less”: Megan Rapinoe has led calls for the US women’s team to earn the same as the men’s side.



“We won’t accept anything less”: Megan Rapinoe has led calls for the US women’s team to earn the same as the men’s side. Photograph: AFP Contributor#AFP/AFP/Getty Images

In an attempt to counteract the momentum behind the USWNT, the USSF president, Carlos Cordeiro (a former Goldman Sachs executive of 25 years), published an open letter, which subsequently, and spectacularly, backfired. His claim that the women earned almost $8m more than the men’s national team between 2010 and 2018 ($34.1m for the women; $26.4m for their male counterparts) was naive at best and outright malicious distortion at worst.

A huge $7m of that gap relates to the club wages of USWNT players, which are paid by US Soccer and not their NWSL teams. That is not a bonus or a wage gifted to players by US Soccer; it is something that clubs would have to pay regardless and thus acts as a club compensation, part of the investment of the governing body into the domestic league.

During the 2010-2018 period, the USWNT won two World Cups and played 190 games to the men’s 151, with a 79% win rate to 51%. This made the statement by US Soccer on the breakdown of talks accusing the representatives of the players of being too aggressive and misleading the public all the more ironic. It said: “Unfortunately, instead of allowing mediation to proceed in a considerate manner, plaintiffs’ counsel took an aggressive and ultimately unproductive approach that follows months of presenting misleading information to the public in an effort to perpetuate confusion.”

Unfortunately for US Soccer, the general public are far from confused and with public support for the players continuing to gather momentum and the gender discrimination lawsuit heading for a jury trial following the breakdown in mediation, this could be a decisive factor.

Aiming the question “what if you lose?” at US Soccer would be far more interesting, because should it lose, an appeal would be hugely unpopular. Having hired lobbyists to argue that it pays the women fairly, it seems the not-for-profit governing body is firmly wedded to the idea that it is in the right.

Thus far, the players have held back from threatening or taking strike action, a tactic used elsewhere, such as by the Republic of Ireland women’s team in 2017, and the Denmark women’s national team that same year – who sat out two fixtures, including a World Cup qualifier to Sweden, before missing out on qualification via a play-off place, their sacrifice having ultimately cost them a shot at automatic qualification.

For now, the USWNT have not had to go down that route, but should US Soccer continue to dig in its heels against a tidal wave of opposition, eventually the team might be forced into the previously unthinkable.



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