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Three years ago, the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) filed a $24 million gender discrimination lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation. This week, after a prolonged and public battle, the players association for the US women’s and men’s national teams negotiated a groundbreaking collective bargaining agreement.
“The accomplishments in this CBA are a testament to the incredible efforts of WNT players on and off the field,” said USWNT player and players association President Becky Sauerbrunn in a statement. “We hope that this agreement and its historic achievements in not only providing for equal pay but also in improving the training and playing environment for National Team players will similarly serve as the foundation for continued growth of women’s soccer both in the United States and abroad.”
The agreement enshrines a number of new protections for both teams, but most importantly, the agreement creates equal pay structures and mandates that the U.S. Soccer Federation share the World Cup prize money equally between both the men and women’s national teams.
It’s a first for any soccer federation in the world. All others take in the money from FIFA, which awards more prize money to the men’s World Cup than the women’s, and distributes it according to FIFA’s discriminatory pay practices. But now, not only will the USWNT athletes get equal pay for their matches, they also will get equal prize money for equal successes.
A clause mandating the sharing of prize money is crucial considering the USWNT impressive record: Four World Cup wins, four Olympic gold medals, and FIFA’s world No. 1 ranking for five straight years. The men’s team, by comparison, failed to qualify for the World Cup in 2018 and haven’t appeared in a quarterfinals or better at a World Cup since before 2002.
Under the previous rules, had the men’s team qualified in 2018, they would have likely received first-round exit prize money worth $8 million – double what the USWNT took home for winning the 2019 Women’s World Cup. France, the men’s 2018 World Cup champions, took home $38 million in prize money — more than the entire pool on offer to the 24 women’s participants the following year.
This agreement would not have been possible without decades of tireless activism from every single USWNT athlete who has decried the double standards present in US and global soccer. Whether it was turning their warm-up jerseys inside out to obscure the U.S. Soccer Federation crest or kneeling during the national anthem in support of racial justice, the USWNT embodies a culture of protest that reflects the ongoing struggles of women and marginalized groups across the world.
Men, for example, make up an overwhelming majority of top earners across the U.S. economy, even though women now represent almost half of the country’s workforce. Women comprise just 27 percent of the top 10 percent, and their share of higher income groups runs even smaller. Among the top 1 percent, women make up slightly less than 17 percent of workers, while at the top 0.1 percent level, they make up only 11 percent.
This equal pay for equal success victory could not have been achieved without the collective strength and solidarity that a union provides. By coming together to demand equal pay for equal work in their contract negotiations, the men’s and women’s teams both inspire and benefit each other. In the latest collective bargaining agreement, for example, athletes on the men’s national team will now have access to paid childcare, a benefit the USWNT has enjoyed for over 25 years. The latest collective bargaining agreement is a testament to how everyone can win when you fight for those at the bottom.
Even beyond soccer and beyond the United States, the contract is groundbreaking. It provides a roadmap to equity for other national sports teams, like basketball and hockey, which face similar challenges. And it’s not hard to see how this kind of fight and solidarity could be replicated in places like France or Germany, where teams have an even higher level of success and larger budgets than the U.S. Soccer Federation.
Across the globe, the movement for equal pay and equitable treatment continues – and in Qatar this November, we’ll see it on the pitch at the FIFA World Cup.