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U.S. women’s and men’s national soccer teams close pay gap with ‘game-changing’ deal

The U.S. women's national team captured a fourth World Cup title in 2019. (Seth Wenig/AP)
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The U.S. men’s and women’s national soccer teams struck a labor deal that closes the contentious pay gap between the squads, an unprecedented step that will equalize both salaries and bonuses, providing a substantial boost to the decorated women’s team.

The deal was part of new collective bargaining agreements with the U.S. Soccer Federation that were announced Wednesday. It was the culmination of a long battle between the women’s team and the sport’s national governing body, which included a high-profile lawsuit that was settled this year.

The USSF said the agreement makes the United States the first country to achieve equal pay for its men’s and women’s teams.

“To finally get to the point where on every economic term it’s equal pay, I am just really proud,” USSF President Cindy Parlow Cone said.

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U.S. soccer men's and women's national team players will receive equal pay and prize money after a deal with the U.S. Soccer Federation on May 18. (Video: Reuters)

The new CBAs, which still need to be ratified, will equalize World Cup bonuses, something Parlow Cone said no other nation had done. The U.S. teams will pool the World Cup bonuses received from FIFA, the sport’s global governing body, and split them equally, evening out a substantially unequal playing field.

“It’s going to be game-changing for what women’s football looks like in general,” women’s national team forward Margaret Purce said. “It’s historic, and I think it’s going to trigger a lot of other things in the sport, not just in the United States but globally.”

Until now, the U.S. men had earned much larger World Cup bonuses than the four-time champion women, even in years when the men didn’t advance out of the tournament’s group stage. FIFA pays much larger sums to men’s teams, citing the fact that the men’s tournament generates substantially more revenue.

FIFA will continue to pay out more to federations for participation in the men’s tournament. But under the new CBAs, the USSF will no longer pass along tournament-specific bonuses to each squad.

In agreeing to the CBA, the U.S. men are making a substantial concession: They could take home less money in World Cup bonuses than they would have previously, especially if they advance deep in the tournament. The women probably will receive much higher bonuses.

“The immediate reaction was, ‘Wait, we’re going to give up what we already have?’ ” said men’s national team defender Walker Zimmerman, a member of the players’ association leadership group, of the new deal. “I totally understand the immediate frustrations. But getting to where we are, I think everyone is really proud to get this deal done and be the first to do it [in the world].”

A timeline of the U.S. women’s soccer team’s equal pay dispute with U.S. Soccer

The USSF, which had been under substantial public and legal pressure, had said it would not agree to a deal with the men that did not equalize the World Cup bonuses.

The winner of this year’s World Cup in Qatar will receive $42 million of FIFA’s $440 million total prize money. If it advances to the round of 16, the U.S. men’s team will receive $13 million.

That’s more than three times what the U.S. women received for winning the tournament in 2019, when they reaped $4 million of $30 million in overall prize money. The winner’s share of the women’s event next year in Australia and New Zealand has not been finalized, but the overall prize money is a proposed $60 million.

In 2019, the Australian men’s and women’s teams agreed to equal pay and work structures, but not when it came to World Cup bonuses. Under the Australian agreement, teams take home the same percentage of the bonus, but the men stand to bring home far more money because of FIFA’s unequal payouts. Norway also has made substantial gains in balancing pay.

“We should collectively be pushing FIFA to equalize working conditions and prize money for the two World Cups,” Purce said. “It’s amazing what the men have done; it’s appreciated. But we should be pushing FIFA.”

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Besides the World Cup money, the agreements will end guaranteed salaries for the women’s players and instead pay them at the same rates as the men for achievements such as roster selection and team performance. The men were not paid a salary by the USSF, an issue that complicated the women’s argument for equal pay.

For similar non-World Cup tournaments, players on both teams also will earn equal amounts of total prize money. The teams also will equally share a portion of the USSF’s broadcast, partner and sponsorship revenue and receive a share of the revenue from tickets sold at USSF-organized home matches. Both teams will receive bonuses for games that are sold out.

The CBAs also ensure equal playing venues, staffing, charter flights and hotel accommodations. And, for the first time, the USSF will pay for child care during men’s team camps and tournaments, equalizing a benefit that previously had only been provided to the women.

The agreements come three months after the U.S. women reached a $24 million settlement with the USSF, ending a gender discrimination case that resonated through American sports and beyond.

The settlement was effectively an admission that the USSF had not paid the women’s team equally. The women had sought more than $66 million in back pay but suffered a major setback in 2020, when a district judge ruled they had agreed to a different pay structure than the men’s team and had, in fact, earned more money overall than the men.

The USSF argued that paying the same bonuses to the women for winning the World Cup that they had promised to the men would bankrupt the Chicago-based nonprofit. But the women said the federation was obligated to pay them equally regardless of FIFA’s bonus structure.

A year ago in France, the U.S. women’s national team began its march to a second straight World Cup title. In the players' own words, here's how they triumphed. (Video: Sarah Hashemi, Thomas LeGro/The Washington Post)

“The collaboration was truly incredible,” Parlow Cone, a former star player, said of the negotiations. “There were hard conversations and challenging times, and, yes, there were moments I thought it was all going to fall apart. But I am really proud of where we’ve landed, proud of the men’s team for what they’ve done, proud of the women’s players who continue to carry the torch for all women.”

The men had been playing under the terms of a CBA that expired in December 2018. The women’s CBA lapsed this spring. The new agreements run through 2028.

Zimmerman said he believes the deal will create a bond between the teams, which have largely operated independently of each other for decades.

“We’re rooting so hard for them; they’re rooting so hard for us,” he said. “It hasn’t been like that in the past. We’re excited for the partnership. It really does feel like a sense of togetherness, which will also translate off the field with the camaraderie and sheer passion for the game and growing the sport here.”

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