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How the US women’s soccer team won its battle for equal pay

The players have won a landmark settlement with the sports federation, which has agreed to pay $24 million in compensation for salary discrimination

Megan Rapinoe y Alex Morgan
Soccer players Megan Rapinoe (r) and Alex Morgan during a press conference in New York.Seth Wenig (AP)
Yolanda Monge

Members of the US women’s national soccer team have won a landmark battle for equal pay. The win marks a before and after for the national team, which has been fighting for equal pay since 2016. The battle finally came to an end on Tuesday after US Soccer, the national federation for the sport, agreed to a multimillion-dollar settlement to compensate the players for systematically receiving less support and money than their male counterparts.

US Soccer will pay $24 million (€21 million) in compensation, of which $22 million (€19 million) will be split between the players. The remaining $2 million (€1.76 million) will be used to support players once they have retired from the sport, and for initiatives related to promoting equality in soccer.

“When we win, everyone wins,” said Megan Rapinoe, a star of the women’s soccer team and a symbol of both the fight for equality in US sport and the LGBTQ+ community, in a message on Twitter. On Tuesday morning, Rapinoe appeared on the television program Good Morning America, alongside her teammate and fellow soccer star Alex Morgan, who has also been one of the most visible faces of the team’s battle for equal pay.

“This is such a monumental step forward in feeling valued, in feeling respected and in mending our relationship with US Soccer,” said Morgan. “I not only see this as a win for our team or women’s sports, but women in general,” added the striker, who has scored 115 goals in 190 international appearances.

US Soccer and the player shared a press release on social media to provide more details about the lawsuit settlement. “Getting to this day has not been easy. The US women’s national team players have achieved unprecedented success while working to achieve equal pay for themselves and future athletes,” it read. The soccer federation has also agreed to now pay the women’s and men’s national teams equally.

The legal dispute began in 2016 when five players – Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Becky Sauerbrunn and Hope Solo – presented a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over wage discrimination. Three years later, 28 members of the national women’s soccer team filed a lawsuit against US Soccer at California federal court for committing the same discrimination. The players pointed out that US Soccer paid men a minimum of $5,000 (€4,400) per match, while female players were only paid if they won against a team that was on FIFA’s top 10 rankings.

The complaint was thrown out by a judge in May 2020, on the argument that there were no grounds for salary disputes to be settled in the court. But the players didn’t give up – they appealed the sentence. “Obviously we can’t go back and undo the injustices we faced, but the only justice coming out of this is that we know that something like this is never going to happen again,” said Rapinoe on Good Morning America, adding: “It’s a great day.”

When France’s men’s soccer team won the World Cup in 2018, FIFA awarded the team $36 million (€32 million) for their victory. But when the US women’s soccer team won the Women’s World Cup in 2019, they received just $4 million (€4.5 million). The US men’s soccer team were eliminated in the round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup, but were paid €4.5 million ($5.11 million), while the women’s team received just €1.45 million ($1.64 million) for winning the competition. The US women’s soccer team has won four Women’s World Cup titles (1991, 1999, 2015 and 2019) and four Olympic gold medals.

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