Here’s a pop quiz question: Name an American soccer player, past or present.
OK, now name another one.
The average person probably could name Clint Dempsey of the Seattle Sounders, but is just as likely to cite Hope Solo, Brandi Chastain, Mia Hamm or Carli Lloyd.
That might be because American women have performed much better in international competition than their male counterparts, winning three World Cup titles and four Olympic gold medals. The men’s teams have never won either championship event, and this year failed to even qualify for the Olympics for the second time in a row.
But here’s the rub: Even though the U.S. Women’s National Team generated $20 million more in revenue last year than the men’s, and last year’s World Cup finale was the most-watched soccer match in U.S. history, the men are paid about four times more than the women.
If the women play in a friendly, they get a $1,350 bonus for winning, nothing for a loss or tie. The U.S. men receive up to $17,625 for winning and are guaranteed no less than $5,000 whatever the result.
“We are the best in the world,” Solo said. The male players “get paid more to just show up than we get paid to win major championships.”
Even the women’s per diem is less than the men’s: $60 compared to $75. (Perhaps that’s a subtle message that they should eat less than the men — or at least eat at cheaper places.)
An argument could be made — not a very good one, though — that male tennis players deserve more money because they play the best of five sets to the women’s best of three. But there is no such difference in soccer. Men and women play for 90 minutes on the same size fields — although not the same quality of fields. The women have complained for years about having to play on substandard artificial turf surfaces.
The women soccer players have had enough of the disparity. Now five members of the national team — including Lloyd and Seattle Reign stars Solo and Megan Rapinoe — have filed a federal wage discrimination complaint against U.S. Soccer, the sport’s governing body.
The soccer federation has sued the union representing the players, saying the women should abide by their current collective bargaining agreement — which is due to expire at the end of the year — and then renegotiate.
The women, who consider that labor agreement invalid because it’s just an extension of one that expired four years ago, want action now: They figure they’ll lose leverage after the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, which they have threatened to boycott if U.S. Soccer doesn’t take steps toward pay parity. And the next World Cup isn’t until 2019.
There are points to be made on both sides of this issue. The men’s and women’s teams, for instance, are paid differently, making apples-to-apples comparisons difficult. The men are paid by appearance — and it’s not cheap to “rent” stars from their club teams. The women are salaried — at their request, the federation says. The women also receive severance and injury pay, health benefits and parental leave — none of which the men get.
Still, given the success of the women’s national team, U.S. Soccer should be more open to taking steps toward better pay. The wage gap is all too common throughout society; Olympic and World Cup champions shouldn’t be on the short end, too.