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US Soccer agrees to enter mediation on equal pay suit after Women’s World Cup

"It would be truly remarkable for these games to mark the beginning of pay equity."

LE HAVRE, FRANCE - JUNE 20: Lindsey Horan of the USA celebrates after scoring her team's first goal during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group F match between Sweden and USA at Stade Oceane on June 20, 2019 in Le Havre, France. (Photo by Maddie Meyer - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
LE HAVRE, FRANCE - JUNE 20: Lindsey Horan of the USA celebrates after scoring her team's first goal during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup France group F match between Sweden and USA at Stade Oceane on June 20, 2019 in Le Havre, France. (Photo by Maddie Meyer - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT) is taking care of business in France at the Women’s World Cup, where it got through the group stages without dropping a game or conceding a goal. 

But, as the players focus on defending their title from 2015, their lawyers are working on advancing their equal pay lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation. On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the 28 women in the USWNT player pool and U.S. Soccer have tentatively agreed to enter mediation after the World Cup. 

The USWNT and U.S. Soccer have been locked in a dispute over pay for years, but three months ago, the players escalated their complaints and filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the organization in the United States District Court in Los Angeles.

In an exceedingly cold statement — which referred to the USWNT stars merely as “the plaintiffs” — U.S. Soccer said it was upset by the timing of this announcement.

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“While we welcome the opportunity to mediate, we are disappointed the plaintiffs’ counsel felt it necessary to share this news publicly during the Women’s World Cup and create any possible distraction from the team’s focus on the tournament and success on the field,” U.S. Soccer said.

Lawyers for the players pressured U.S. Soccer to agree to this mediation, most likely in attempts to capitalize from the wave of popularity the USWNT is riding thanks to World Cup exposure. It also makes sense to publicize this before the knockout rounds begin, since there are teams in the draw talented enough to upset the defending champions.

Plus, last week, Rachel Bachmann of the WSJ reported that from 2016 to 2018, the U.S. women’s games generated $50.8 million in total revenue, which was more than the $49.9 million total revenue generated by the U.S. men’s game. In 2016, the year after the USWNT won the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the women’s games generated $1.9 million more revenue than men’s games.

“In the midst of the World Cup, following news regarding significant revenue generated by the women players, USSF decided it is time to sit down with the players’ lawyers,” Molly Levinson, a spokeswoman for the players, told the WSJ. “We hope their pledge to submit a proposal to solve the ongoing gender disparities is genuine. It would be truly remarkable for these games to mark the beginning of pay equity. The world is watching.”

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One thing is certain: This is not a distraction for the plaintiffs. The team is ready to face Spain on Monday in the Round of 16, and a potential blockbuster quarterfinal against France is on the horizon.

“We’re here to win a World Cup, the lawyers are at home to do their thing. We both have our jobs,” Kelly O’Hara said. “This team has been very good, has always been very good, at compartmentalizing. We focus on the task at hand and I haven’t paid any mind to anything that’s been going on. That’s something that we’ll pick back up when we get home.”