How the US women’s soccer team reignited the equal pay debate in sport

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8th Jul 2019

Crowds at the FIFA World Cup stadium were chanting the words “equal pay, equal pay” for the US women’s soccer team after their fourth World Cup win in Lyon, France, overnight. 

The match saw the US claiming victory against the Netherlands 2-0, which triggered a stadium of support for the team who earn less than their male counterparts competing in the same competition. 

The 2019 Women’s World Cup prize is $US30 million, while winners in the 2018 Men’s World Cup received $US400 million. The gender prize difference of $US270 million means the women’s team earns less than 10 percent of what their male counterparts earn.

Star player Megan Rapinoe who scored the first goal of the game said she was “down with the boos.” As per CNN, she said:  “I think we’re done with “are we worth it, should we have equal pay, is the markets the same, yadda, yadda.” Fans are done with that, players are done with that and, in a lot of ways, I think sponsors and everyone’s done with that.”

“Let’s get to the next point. How do we support women’s federations and women’s programs around the world? It’s time to move that conversation forward to the next step and a little public shame never hurt anybody, right.”

FIFA president Gianni Infantino proposed on Friday 5 July that he plans to expand the Women’s World Cup to 32 teams from 24 and that by 2023 they hoped to double the competition’s prize money to $US60 million. The increase in earnings would still be disproportionate to the men’s team, with the winners earning $US440 million prize money in the 2022 Men’s World Cup in Qatar.

“Nothing is impossible and based on the success of this World Cup of course we have to believe bigger and to do what we should have done already probably some time ago,” Infantino said, Time Magazine reports.

While fighting for equality abroad, the US soccer team faces controversy at home too, with some members of the team suing the US Soccer Federation on 28 March this year. They allege that the federation breached wage discrimination laws and has denied equal playing, training and travel conditions, as well as equal promotion, support and development of their games, and other terms of conditions of employment equal to the men’s team. 

The US men’s team didn’t qualify for their 2018 World Cup and is yet to claim a single victory in the global competition. The women’s team has championed the World Cup, winning the tournament in 1991, 1999, 2015 and now in 2019. According to the Wall Street Journal, in the US from 2016 through to 2018, the women’s games pulled in about $50.8 million in revenue compared to $49.9 million for the men.

The discrepancy in pay is part of a global problem which sees sportswomen regularly paid less than their male counterparts. In Australia the Matildas were at the centre of a similar controversy when it was revealed they earned $1 million to the Socceroos’s $8 million for qualifying for the World Cup. The Matildas outperformed the Socceroos by winning a game in the World Cup against Brazil, while the Socceroos failed to win a game in the 2018 men’s competition. If the Matilda’s won the entire tournament, they would earn $4 million – only half of what the male team earned just for qualifying for the tournament and winning no games.

The gender pay matter aside, a Plan International study found that sportswomen are also three times more likely to experience negative comments than men, and that 23 percent of these comments will be sexist and will refer to traditional gender stereotypes. Another 20 percent of these comments belittle women’s sports, their athletic abilities and skills. 

Sportswomen can also experience gender bias in the coverage of their games, such as when global number one tennis star Ash Barty was the subject of discrimination when she smashed the second round of Wimbledon, defeating China’s Zhend Saisai 6-4, 6-2. 

Australians missed out on seeing most of Barty’s match, with Channel 7 favoring coverage of world number 43 Nick Kyrgio. Of the coverage, Barty said: “How do you want me to answer that one? If people can watch my matches great, if they can’t, they can’t. That’s up to the broadcasters.”

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