Leveling the Playing Field
Woman kicking soccer ball
Credit: Ingram Publishing

Leveling the Playing Field

As you no doubt have already heard, earlier this month, the U.S. Women’s National Team won the FIFA Women’s World Cup. This victory was celebrated all over the country, and the athletes received a ticker-tape parade when they arrived back in New York from France. But behind the scenes, there was less to celebrate.

Back in March, the U.S. Women’s National Team–who has now won the Women’s World Cup title four times–filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer, demanding to receive the same payment as the men’s teams.

“Equal Pay!”

Minutes after the American women won their victory in France, the stadium began to fill with thousands of voices chanting “Equal pay! Equal pay!” And with good reason. The American women’s team will receive a $4 million bonus from FIFA for their win, while the winners of last year’s men’s World Cup received $38 million. In other words, the female victors will earn less than 10 percent of what their male counterparts earned. This discrimination isn’t new: in 2015, the United States Soccer Federation awarded $2 million to the women’s team for winning the World Cup, and $9 million to the men’s team, even though the men’s team didn’t advance past the first round.

Why Is This So?

The traditional argument against equal pay in sports is that women’s sports don’t generate as much revenue as men’s sports, and so, therefore, it’s only fair that women be paid less. But as it turns out, this is no longer true. In fact, a recent report shows that in the U.S. from 2016 to 2018, women’s sporting events generated roughly $50.8 million in revenue, while men’s sports generated about $49.9 million.

However, fixing the problem isn’t as easy as simply writing the women a bigger check. Men’s and women’s teams have separate collective bargaining agreements. They play different numbers of games. And sports organizations, such as U.S. Soccer, can’t always control which team lucrative sponsorship deals will go to.

So What Next?

Currently, the gender discrimination lawsuit is in the mediation stage–meaning that representatives from both parties are working together to try to find a solution, rather than taking the case to court.

In the meantime, however, not everyone is willing to sit by and wait for lawyers to sort out the problem. Secret Deodorant, owned by Procter & Gamble, announced last Sunday that they will donate $529,000 ($23,000 per player) to the U.S. women’s team. The company, a major Women’s World Cup sponsor, also took out a full-page ad in the Sunday New York Times to announce their donation and to say that the women’s team deserves equal pay.

It remains to be seen if any other major sponsors of the Women’s World Cup will follow P&G’s example. Either way, this is bound to be a landmark case of truly leveling the playing field, with a far greater victory at stake than a trophy.

Dig Deeper In the United States, on average, how much more money do men make than women? How does this gap grow when one considers women of color?
Valerie Cumming

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