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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

US Soccer and top players agree to guarantee equal pay

The United States women won a World Cup championship and an Olympic bronze medal during their six-year fight for equal pay.

By Andrew Das

For the first time, soccer players representing the United States men’s and women’s national teams will receive the same pay and prize money, including at World Cups, under landmark agreements with the U.S. Soccer Federation that will end years of litigation and bitter public disputes over what constitutes “equal pay.”

The revised pay structures are part of collective bargaining agreements with each team announced Wednesday, three months after a group of top women’s team players settled a gender discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer and six months before the men’s team is scheduled to take the field at the World Cup in Qatar.

In addition to guaranteeing men’s and women’s players the same paychecks for taking part in international matches, the deals include a provision, believed to be the first of its kind, through which the teams will pool the unequal payments they receive from FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, for participating in the World Cup. Starting with the 2022 men’s tournament and the 2023 Women’s World Cup, that money will be shared equally among the members of both teams.

“No other country has ever done this,” U.S. Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone said of the deal to equalize World Cup payments. “I think everyone should be really proud of what we’ve accomplished here. It really, truly is historic.”

The split of prize money is a notable concession by the American men, who have previously been awarded the bulk of the multimillion-dollar payments U.S. Soccer receives from FIFA each time the team has played in the World Cup. The agreement to pool the money with the women also removed what players and federation officials had long agreed was the single biggest obstacle to a resolution of the equal pay debate. It represents a potentially huge windfall for the women’s team, whose World Cup prize pool is a fraction of that paid to men’s teams every four years.

Under the new deals, which run through 2028 and cover the next four World Cups, dozens of top men’s and women’s players have been told in internal presentations reviewed by The New York Times that they can expect to collect average annual payouts of about $450,000 from U.S. Soccer — and potentially more than double that in successful World Cup years.

“I feel a lot of pride that there are going to be girls who are going to grow up and see what we’ve accomplished and recognize their value instead of having to fight to see it themselves,” said Midge Purce, a member of the collective bargaining committee for the women’s players’ association.

“But my dad always told me, ‘You don’t get a reward for doing what you’re supposed to do,’” she added. “And paying men and women equally is what you’re supposed to do.”

The difference in compensation for men and women has been one of the most contentious issues in soccer in recent years, particularly after the American women won consecutive World Cup championships, in 2015 and 2019, and the men failed to qualify for the 2018 tournament. Over the years, the women’s team, which includes some of the world’s most recognizable athletes, had escalated and amplified its fight in court filings, news media interviews and on their sport’s grandest stages.

The dispute had always been a complex issue, with differing contracts, unequal prize money and other financial quirks muddying the distinctions in pay between the men’s and women’s teams and complicating the ability of national governing bodies such as U.S. Soccer to resolve the differences.

Yet the federation ultimately committed to a fairer system. To achieve it, U.S. Soccer will distribute millions of extra dollars to its best players through a complicated calculus of increased match bonuses, pooled prize money and new revenue-sharing agreements that will give each team a slice of the tens of millions of dollars in commercial revenues that U.S. Soccer receives each year from sponsors, broadcasters and other partners.

Labor peace will be expensive: U.S. Soccer has committed to single-game payments for most matches of $18,000 per player for games won, and as much as $24,000 per game for wins at certain major tournaments — cementing the status of the U.S. men and women as two of the highest-paid national teams in the world. And the federation will surrender as much as 90% of the money it receives from FIFA for competing in the World Cup to the men’s and women’s players on those teams. Based on past performances and union projections, that could result in a shared prize pool of more than $20 million as soon as next year.

But despite its cost, the new equal pay policy has incalculable value for all involved, as it will end a six-year battle that battered the federation’s reputation, threatened U.S. Soccer’s relationships with important sponsors and ran up millions of dollars in legal fees on every side of the fight.

Since the American women began pressing their equal pay fight in 2016, soccer federations from Norway to Australia to the Netherlands have moved to pay their national teams more equally. But all of those deals sought to equalize match-day pay rates that are far lower than the figures U.S. Soccer pays to its senior teams. And all of them sidestepped the biggest pay gap in soccer: the huge difference in World Cup bonuses paid to men and women by FIFA. The 24 teams at the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, for example, competed for a prize pool of $30 million; the 32 men’s teams that will compete in Qatar in November will split $450 million.

For the most prominent American women’s players, the deal could soon deliver an immediate payday by unlocking a $24 million settlement, largely for back pay, that they reached with U.S. Soccer in February to settle the gender discrimination lawsuit. U.S. Soccer had made that one-time payment contingent on reaching new collective bargaining agreements that formalized equal pay between the teams.

With the new deals approved, U.S. Soccer can now seek the judge’s approval to start cutting checks.

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