The Women's World Cup promises to be the grandest and most successful women's sporting event ever staged, but it won't bring riches to the U.S. national team members, even if they win the championship.
Each member of the favored U.S. team will receive a $12,500 bonus from the U.S. Soccer Federation if it wins this 16-team international tournament, which begins Saturday and will take place at eight venues across the nation.
Each member of the U.S. men's national team would have earned at least a $380,000 bonus from the USSF if it had won the 1998 World Cup in France last summer. (It lost all three of its first-round matches.)
The 20 U.S. women's players each received $2,500 for making the Women's World Cup roster this spring. The 22 members of the U.S. men's team received $20,000 apiece for making the World Cup cut last year.
"For what we have done for women's soccer, something else should come with it," said U.S. midfielder Kristine Lilly, a member of the team for 12 years. "What we want is what's fair and right. . . . I don't think we are being selfish with that [aim]. It is only fair to be at a different level than we are."
USSF Secretary General Hank Steinbrecher said the money for the men's team bonuses came from the $600,000 per World Cup match the federation received from FIFA, soccer's world governing body. Had the men advanced to the round of 16 or beyond, Steinbrecher said, the sum of the payments from FIFA would have increased with each round.
"For the Women's World Cup, FIFA pays us nothing. Zero," he said. "Therein lies the answer."
Steinbrecher added, though, that both the men's and women's national teams lost money last year. He said the USSF did not make a profit from the 1998 World Cup because of its expenses for transportation and accommodations, among other costs.
Each player on the U.S. men's team last summer took home $35,000 despite its last-place finish in the 32-team field. The total resulted from the $20,000 for making the World Cup roster and $5,000 for each of the team's first-round games.
Had the U.S. men won the World Cup, they each would have received a total of more than $400,000, including a $113,636 bonus for the World Cup victory, a $77,273 bonus for advancing to the final and a $68,182 bonus for advancing to the semifinals.
Should the U.S. women finish lower than second in the upcoming Women's World Cup, they would get no bonus money. A second-place finish would bring each player a $7,500 bonus.
The U.S. women's players say the numbers are too frustrating to dwell on. Late last year, they and the federation negotiated certain enhancements to their existing contract with the USSF, such as adding a nanny to the payroll to care for the children of Carla Overbeck and Joy Fawcett. But the contract, which took effect in January 1997, remained fundamentally the same. It expires at the conclusion of the Women's World Cup.
"It's clearly a frustration," U.S. defender Brandi Chastain said. ". . . But to let that get in the way of what we ultimately want to do would be embarrassing to us. We're here to play soccer, we're not here to bicker about what the men make."
The U.S. women's team members got something the 1998 men's team did not: a monthly stipend for their participation in the five-month training camp in Florida leading up to the tournament. The size of the stipends depended on each player's experience and ranged from $2,100 per month to $3,150 per month. There were limited benefits and no contributions to 401(K) retirement plans.
Thus, the team's most experienced players, such as Lilly, Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers and Julie Foudy, stand to earn no more than $37,050 from the USSF for helping the United States win the Women's World Cup -- $22,050 in monthly stipends, $2,500 for making the U.S. roster and $12,500 for winning the championship. Players with less experience -- such as young starter Kate Sobrero, 22 -- will earn $29,700 from the USSF if the U.S. team wins the championship. (However, the Women's World Cup Organizing Committee has said it will pay the players additional money -- from $1,875 to $7,500 per player, depending on experience.)
The 1998 U.S. men's players did not receive USSF stipends or attend a residency training camp. All played professionally in the United States or overseas until just weeks before the tournament. Last year's Major League Soccer average annual salary was about $80,000.
"We're happy, but we also realize we have a long way to go," Foudy said. "We're not talking about equality, just fairness. That's the next progression."
CAPTION: U.S. players, including Kristine Lilly (front), earned $2,500 for making the Women's World Cup roster. U.S. men got $20,000 for making their '98 cut.