The kids swarming the Dubuque Soccer Complex fields might be displaying a bit more energy and force behind their kicks this week after the American women repeated as World Cup champions.
Sunday’s historic victory by the U.S. Women’s National Team — four titles and one runnerup finish in all eight World Cup tournaments — is about more than just soccer (or football, as the rest of the world calls it) but also about national pride and women’s role in sport and society.
Before the U.S. team opened World Cup play in France by thrashing Thailand, and especially after prevailing in a tight championship match against the Netherlands on Sunday, the players personified the issue of equal pay between men and women. As the Americans celebrated, this chant reverberated around the Lyon stadium: “Equal pay! Equal pay!”
The chant referred to the players’ lawsuit filed earlier this year against their employer, the U.S. Soccer Federation. The women allege gender discrimination, stating that their wages and working conditions are worse than the men’s team. (The U.S. men have been less successful. They failed to even qualify for their World Cup last year and on Sunday lost to Mexico in the finals of an international tournament on a smaller scale, the Concacaf Gold Cup.)
Men and women should receive the same compensation for doing the same work and making the same contribution toward their employer’s success. That is true whether the work is performed in an office, at a construction site or on a soccer field. There are myriad examples of where that is not occurring today. The problem needs to be remedied.
However, despite what stadium chants or some presidential candidates suggest, the issue can be complicated.
The Washington Post, which studied the contracts for members of the U.S. men’s and women’s soccer teams with the U.S. Soccer Federation, stated, “It’s tough to make a straightforward comparison of the earnings for men and women players, because the two teams have different collective-bargaining agreements that outline different pay structures.”
Without getting too deep into the weeds, we’ll note that, in general, the men get paid more after a loss than the women do for a win. But the women — under contract — have a base-salary guarantee, while the men — under contract — are paid only for games in which they are in uniform. And the teams play a different number of games at varied competition levels. How much revenue the teams generate — sponsorships, TV rights and such — is hard to calculate because many of those dollars are part of package deals and not broken out by team. (However, the women’s team jersey is setting sales records.)
Though faced with apples and oranges, the Post looked at contracts and compensation packages and found that, if both squads played 20 games and lost them all — a virtual impossibility — the women’s pay would be the same as that of the men. After that, it gets complicated, and a pay gap grows.
Lest one think that unequal pay is just an American issue, consider this: For the 2019 Women’s World Cup, total prize money was $30 million, with $4 million of it going to the federation of the champions. Last year, the men’s total prize pool was $400 million, of which the champions received $38 million — better than one-fourth more than all the 2019 women’s teams combined.
Compensation equity is an ongoing issue, regardless of the profession, and remedies are long overdue. However, here in the afterglow of the amazing American women’s world championship, remember that problems like these are often more complicated than stadium chants suggest.