U.S. women’s soccer team takes ‘Equal Play, Equal Pay’ campaign to the next level

CREDIT: TWITTER
CREDIT: TWITTER

The United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) has spent the year since their record-setting World Cup victory celebrating in a unique way: fighting for U.S. Soccer to provide them with the same financial compensation, playing conditions, and travel arrangements as their male counterparts on the men’s side.

This weekend, at a match against South Africa in played on Soldier Field in Chicago, they kicked that fight for equality up a notch — with #EqualPlayEqualPay T-shirts, temporary tattoos, and social media posts.

Since a judge recently ruled that their current collective bargaining agreement is valid, thus taking away their ability to strike, and talks with U.S. Soccer over a new collective bargaining agreement have stalled, the team had to get creative.

“We’ve had enough,” USWNT star Megan Rapinoe told the New York Times. “Our hand has been forced.”

Coincidentally, as the USWNT was taking on South Africa, the Western New York Flash and the Seattle Reign of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) played on a field that was so substandard it was laughable. It was a clear sign that this plea for equality is about much more than just dollars and cents. It’s about respect.

Because their home stadium was being used for a TLC concert, the Flash hosted the Reign at a nearby minor-league baseball stadium. Unfortunately, the field concocted at this stadium was 100 yards by 58 yards, significantly smaller than the NWSL standard of 100 yards by 70 yards.

In addition to the smaller dimensions, which made play nearly impossible, the field wasn’t in good condition and fans had to sit far away from the action. Overall, it was a disaster and the national team players took notice.

“The field dimensions were not up to our standards, but due to various factors, the league office made the decision to grant an exception for this evening’s match,” NWSL commissioner Jeff Plush said. “In retrospect, we made the wrong decision.”

Laura Harvey, coach of the Reign, was infuriated about the decision to play on the field, calling it a “farce that can never happen again.”

Now, to clarify, the USWNT is not fighting for NWSL players to be paid the same as those in MLS, the men’s pro soccer league here in the States. The NWSL is only four years old and plays an abbreviated season. Currently, the minimum salary for NWSL players who not on the national team is $7,200, while the the max is $39,700.

However, U.S. Soccer, the same governing body that the USWNT is battling for equal pay, is heavily involved in the NWSL. It subsidizes the salaries of all the players on the USWNT, houses the NWSL offices, and has a heavy hand in the scheduling of the matches. The reason U.S. Soccer is so involved in the league is because it helps grow the game and provides an opportunity for female soccer players to stay involved in soccer and develop their talents after college.

In other words, it helps create more fans, broaden the talent pool, and keep USWNT players local and active throughout the year. These are all huge benefits to U.S. Soccer.

So, it’s easy to see why players would group this embarrassing field provided by the Dash and the NWSL in with the other disrespectful inequities that U.S. women’s soccer has to deal with, from subpar hotels to nearly unplayable turf.

Sexism In U.S. Soccer On Display After USWNT Match Canceled Due To Dangerous Field ConditionsSports by CREDIT: Elaine Thompson, AP Talks about sexism in soccer are usually focused on the sport’s international…thinkprogress.orgAfter winning the World Cup last year — which netted them $6 million less than the U.S. men’s team earned for losing in the first round of their World Cup — the USWNT was forced to play eight of its 10 Victory Tour matches on turf instead of real grass. The USMNT hasn’t played on turf in three years.

As reported by Elle, the discrimination faced by female soccer players in the U.S. runs deep:

When the U.S. Men’s National Team plays in Los Angeles, they fly business class. When they land, they head to the Langham, a luxury hotel in Pasadena, where the cheapest room was recently priced at $249 and suites can cost more than $1,000.

When the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team plays in Los Angeles, they fly coach. Upon landing, they head to the Belamar in Manhattan Beach, where the swankiest room costs about as much as the cheapest room at the Langham.

The men have never won a World Cup. The women are the reigning champs.

These inequities aren’t limited to travel. According to the 2015 audited financial statements of U.S. Soccer, expenses for the U.S. Men’s National Team in 2015 were over $31.1 million; the U.S. Women’s National Team cost the organization just over $10.3 million. Last year, the head coach for the men’s team earned a salary of $3.2 million; the head coach for the women’s team made a whopping $185,000. (This year, her salary was generously raised to $250,000.)

Unfortunately for the USWNT, it is currently in a waiting game. In March, five members of the team filed a federal wage discrimination complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission, but they won’t hear back about that for months.

Meanwhile, the team has been very frustrated by the lack of interest U.S. Soccer has shown in negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement before their current one expires at the end of the year. Sunil Gulati, the president of U.S. Soccer, hasn’t been to a single negotiating meeting.

“It’s quite frustrating to know that he’s making comments that he wants to get a deal done, but he hasn’t come to one meeting,” USWNT star Megan Rapinoe told the New York Times. “I’ve been to three meetings, flown six hours across the country and interrupted my rehab to come to New York, where he lives. And he can’t come to one meeting.”

The U.S. women are the gold medal favorites at the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio, and are likely to continue to gain fans and popularity this summer as they build on their World Cup success. So, they’ll use their platform to continue to push for equal treatment, whether it be in field size, paychecks, or amenities.

“This isn’t about a money grab. It’s about doing the right thing, the fair thing,” Carli Lloyd wrote in the New York Times. “It’s about treating people the way they deserve to be treated, no matter their gender.”