For the past 30 years, the United States has pioneered women’s soccer and the women’s sports movement in general.
They won the first official FIFA Women’s World Cup against Norway in 1991. They set a new world record for attendance at a women’s sporting event (90,185) when they hosted and won the tournament against China in 1999, and became the most dominant women. national team in football history when they won their third world title in 2015 and their fourth in 2019.
The United States has also continued to set benchmarks off the field. The introduction of Title IX by the federal government in 1972 ensured that female athletes at the collegiate level had the same opportunities as their male counterparts, creating a system of youth development that is still unrivaled in world sport.
And in 2016, the US women’s national team became the first of its kind to publicly sue its governing body for “institutionalized gender discrimination” — a lengthy legal process that was settled earlier this year and which has since become representative of the structural challenges that still exist. faced by women in their fight for equality in sport, as well as by women in workplaces around the world.
This week, the US added yet another win to its already hectic resume, becoming the latest nation to implement equal pay across its senior men’s and women’s national teams, joining the likes of Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, the Netherlands and Norway in creating contractual agreements. structures for which players are paid the same.
But unlike those nations, the US has taken its new collective bargaining agreement even further.
Although the men’s and women’s teams negotiated separate agreements with US Soccer, the two sides will now be on an equal footing in several areas:
- Equal pay for every game played, including friendlies, World Cup qualifiers and other competitions.
- Matching bonuses for game results and World Cup participation (while equalizing how opponents’ FIFA ratings impact game bonuses)
- Equal salary for each day in camp and equal roster size for game day
- Equal division of commercial income, including broadcast and ticketing
- Equal division of tournament prize money, with both teams pooling their winnings into a single pot which is then distributed equally.
It is on this last point that the agreement with US Soccer is truly revolutionary.
World Cup prize money has been one of the biggest obstacles to achieving true pay equality between national soccer teams, mainly due to the huge disparities between the bonuses offered by FIFA and its member confederations to the male and female teams that participate in their tournaments.
At the 2018 Men’s World Cup, FIFA allocated a total prize pool of $400 million to be distributed among all participating teams, with higher bonuses being awarded to teams as they progressed. The winning national team, France, received $40 million for taking the title.
At the 2019 Women’s World Cup, the total prize pool allocated by FIFA was just $30 million, while the winners, the USA, raised $4 million.
Australia’s progress in both tournaments demonstrates the disparities. While the Socceroos received around $8 million ($5.6 million) just for qualifying for Russia (before failing to win a single game in the group stage), the Matildas received just $1 million ($700,000) for reach the quarterfinals. Final in France.
These inequalities seem so insurmountable that they have shaped negotiations to close the pay gap to the point where, until this week’s deal, no other nation, including Australia, had specific mechanisms to match World Cup prize money. World.
Asked why a shared prize money was not included in the Socceroos and Matildas CBA that was negotiated in 2019, PFA Co-Executive Director Kate Gill said the prize money issue should be resolved at its source. instead of asking players to trade. one with the other.
“Ahead of the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023, FIFA was required to conduct a comprehensive human rights risk assessment. The report identified the lack of parity in prize money as a clear lack of respect for human rights. players and recommends that FIFA address this issue.
“If not addressed, Australia risks co-hosting a tournament that celebrates women but fails to treat the best female players on the planet as equals.”
Australia’s approach to the prize money issue, which they launched as part of a campaign ahead of the 2019 Women’s World Cup, differs even more from that of the USA or collective agreements, or whose cultures and national teams do not have the same profile. global.
It does this by holding the overall governing bodies of FIFA and its confederations accountable for investing in progress and equality rather than putting the burden on the players themselves.
However, given FIFA’s glacial pace in correcting historical inequalities in women’s football, it is understandable why federations like the US are taking these steps on their own.
Indeed, this week’s groundbreaking deal is expected to act as a rising tide to lift the boats of other federations in the absence of genuine steps by FIFA and its confederations to seek and integrate gender equality within their structures.
As US Soccer president and former US women’s national team player Cindy Parlow-Cone said after the announcement: “This will have ramifications not only in the world of soccer, but also in the world of sports.
“I am very proud that we were the first country [to equalise prize money]but I certainly hope we are not the last.
In fact, the US equal pay deal is just one piece of the larger puzzle of true gender equality in the game, the vast majority of which exists below the pointy end of the soccer pyramid.
For example, one of the reasons the US men’s national team was willing to give up some of their prize money to supplement the salary of their female colleagues was because they can afford to: The vast majority of income earned by male soccer players comes from club play, while female players derive a much higher percentage of their income from national team soccer.
With club football assuming an increasingly important role in the lives of national team players, addressing pay inequality at this level is paramount.
In the Australian A-Leagues, the minimum salary for a male player in the A-League men’s competition is currently around $45,000 for a full-time 52-week season, which includes pre-season and a series of finals. four weeks (and increases progressively with age).
However, while the league’s collective agreements include a principle of “same base hourly rate” for male and female players, the shorter length of the A-League’s part-time women’s season (23 weeks) means that the minimum wage for women is much lower, approximately $17,000.
In addition, male players also benefit from much stronger and supported youth development pathways, leading them to full-time football careers in national leagues around the world from a younger age.
This is further complemented by national and global transfer systems that incentivize clubs and leagues to prioritize the development and opportunities of male players, selling them to larger clubs elsewhere for profit at the expense of working with emerging female players. , whose own transfer market is barely emerging.
Even beyond football, male players often sign far more lucrative endorsement deals with brands and other organizations, as well as having far greater reach in terms of media coverage, marketing and post-game opportunities in experts and administration compared to athletes.
So while the new US equal pay agreement is an unprecedented step for women’s soccer and the women’s sports movement in general, and will hopefully inspire other nations like Australia to continue to update their own agreements, it only forms a part of a much larger revolution that must take place if true equality in football is to be achieved.