The US Soccer Federation announced on Sept. 14 that it has offered identical contracts to the players associations of both the men’s and women’s national teams in response to an ongoing battle over pay equity.
In a statement, US soccer said the goal of aligning both teams under a single collective bargaining agreement and pay structure was to ensure players male and female “remain among the highest paid senior national team players in the world, while providing a revenue-sharing structure” that allows both teams to benefit from future investments.
“This definitely is a major step forward,” says Leeja Carter, a feminist exercise and sports psychology scholar at Temple University, adding that the identical contract proposals are a recognition of “the ways in which the US women’s soccer team hasn’t been treated fairly” in the past.
The US Soccer Federation’s announcement comes on the heels of a series of legal battles brought by female players over fair pay. In 2019, members of the US women’s team sued the Federation for gender discrimination. Despite being asked to perform the same job responsibilities as male players—and performing better on the field— “the female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts,” the lawsuit argued.
The US women’s team went on to become world champions a few months after the lawsuit was filed, winning the FIFA World Cup a second consecutive time. (They also won in 2015.) The men’s team did not qualify for the same competition a year earlier and has never won a World Cup.
A federal judge dismissed the majority of the female players’ claims last May, arguing there was not sufficient evidence to prove that the US women’s team received unequal pay and that they receive “benefits the [men’s] players do not receive,” through their union contract. The US women’s team has since appealed this decision, and its appeal is backed by a “friend of the court” amicus brief filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“Equity is really how we redistribute power,” says Carter. “Should players be paid the same amount when they’re performing better?”
In its announcement, the US Federation said it will not agree to any collective bargaining agreement that does “not take the important step of equalizing FIFA prize Money,” referring to the significant pay disparities that still exist for male and female soccer players competing on the world stage.
A total of $15 million was awarded by FIFA at the 2015 Women’s World Cup; that pool of money doubled to $30 million in 2019. Following the US women’s victory in 2019, FIFA president Gianni Infantino once again pledged to double the prize money for the 2023 tournament. But these monetary awards still pale in comparison to what male competitors have been offered. The prize pool for the 2018 Men’s World Cup was roughly $400 million and is set to increase to $440 for next year’s tournament in Qatar.
In a Sept. 10 letter, US Soccer Federation president Cindy Cone said that “coming to a resolution on the World Cup prize money” would be “key” to collective bargaining negotiations with both the men’s and women’s soccer teams.
“Until FIFA equalizes the prize money that it awards to the men’s and women’s World Cup participants, it is incumbent upon us to collectively find a solution,” she said.