On Wednesday, the New York Daily News published an article detailing the ways that US Soccer has constructed an unequal pay scheme between its men's and women's national teams. It was only the opening salvo in the latest move from the USWNT in their fight with US Soccer over perceived disparate treatment.
You might recall that the WNT is already fighting with USSF over the terms of a new collective bargaining agreement, a back and forth that has yet to reach resolution.
Now the team is getting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission involved by asking for a federal investigation of US Soccer over wage discrimination, as reported by the New York Times.
WNT complaints over their sub-par treatment by USSF most notably date back to before the 2015 Women's World Cup, when the team raised issues with playing the tournament on turf in Canada. Before ultimately dropping their case, they argued that FIFA would never ask men's teams to play any tournament, much less THE showcase tournament of the sport, on anything but grass.
Unfortunately, the issue ended up getting conflated a bit between being a turf vs. grass issue as opposed to a quality playing surface issue, but it did emerge again in late 2015 when Megan Rapinoe tore her ACL in Hawaii and the team boycotted the World Cup Victory Tour game scheduled there over field conditions.
And now, after months of filings over their CBA or lack thereof, the WNT has brought in the EEOC. Signing the complaint for the team were Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Hope Solo.
Those five players, including co-captains Lloyd and Sauerbrunn, are the team's representatives in matters dealing with their federation, and they went on Today to explain their position. "I think the timing is right," Lloyd said in the interview. "I think that we've proven our worth over the years. Just coming off of a World Cup win, and the pay disparity between the men and women is just too large."
US Soccer's statement on the matter was fairly generic: "While we have not seen this complaint and can't comment on the specifics of it, we are disappointed about this action. We have been a world leader in women's soccer and are proud of the commitment we have made to building the women's game in the United States over the past 30 years."
The EEOC won't be dealing with the CBA fight; their involvement is limited to whether wage discrimination has occurred and, if it determines that this is the case, could oversee employer compliance in the form of back pay to the players.
Based on the latest financial details released by US Soccer at their last annual general meeting, the USWNT brings in comparable money to the MNT, especially on the back of a World Cup win and a whirlwind victory tour. The WNT is projected to bring in $23.6M in revenue through the end of fiscal year 2016 ending today, while MNT events are projected to bring in $21M. USSF also predicts the WNT will bring in an estimated $17.6M in the next fiscal year, compared to $9M for the MNT.
Obviously those numbers are heavily involved with whether the WNT wins a gold medal in the 2016 Rio Olympics and if they get an ensuing 10-game victory tour, but beyond hypotheticals, it's very real that US Soccer has structured payment to MNT and WNT in vastly different ways.
One of those differences is that WNT players are salaried, while MNT players get paid if they come into camp. This is a holdover from a time when the women's team just wasn't paid very well at all and women didn't draw club salaries that could help them pay the bills year round (not that that happens now either) and they negotiated a strong CBA to ensure that even in fallow years, national team players would get taken care of. But even if US Soccer argues that the men only get paid per game, consider that they get $5,000 bonuses for losing a friendly (and making up to $12,500 for a win) while the women get $1,350 for winning and nothing for losing, which creates a situation like the one below.
There's other inequalities, like making a World Cup roster being worth $15,000/player for the WNT but $68,750 for the MNT. Sports Illustrated has laid out many of those inequalities in a neat table here.
So what happens now? Well now the EEOC investigates, a process which could take months and possibly last beyond the end of the Olympics. In that time players and fans may finally get answers to questions about just how US Soccer makes its money off the WNT through things like broadcast and marketing deals, which would in turn help the WNT come up with a quantifiable valuation for suggested compensation.
Quotes from the players make it seem as though they're ready to strike if necessary, taking the next logical step after the boycott in Hawaii.
Solo: "Right now all options are available to us." re: future work stoppage. They are prepared to take any action. #uswnt— Meg Linehan (@itsmeglinehan) March 31, 2016
There's not much information yet on how this might impact NWSL, since US Soccer subsidizes the league through its payment of national team player salaries. A national team strike would certainly remove the WNT players from their club rosters ahead of the Olympics.
UPDATE: US soccer has released a statement in response to the lawsuit.'
UPDATE 2: Becky Sauerbrunn fires back.