By Tony Morrison, our US Correspondent!
June 14th 2019
The Women’s World Cup is underway this week for the US Women’s Team (USWNT), and once again all us US soccer fans are cheering on their team as they do every four years. The US Soccer Federation (USSF) has pushed the women’s game relentlessly for the last thirty years at all levels of the game from Kindergarten upwards. The results have been a USWNT that has won the World Cup three times, a professional women’s league funded by USSF (NWSL)and an explosion of play among girls of all ages in the country.
Quick quiz – how are the US women showing their thanks to their Federation:
As it’s 2019, the year of the weird, it’s got to be number 2.
The US soccer ladies have legal form of course. In fact, they seem more at home in the law courts these days, rather than the training field. This is the third time that women soccer players have sued their Federation. This time, for a suit filed March 8 this year, it was all members of the national squad, and it was for gender discrimination. Specifically, they claim that they are not paid the same for the same work as the men’s US team and their working conditions are also inferior to the men’s.
In a couple of years, for example after the World Cup Final win in 2015, the revenue they bought into USSF was superior to the men’s team, as opposed to being a whole lot less as it has been in all other years.
They point to having to play on artificial turf some times, the fact they get fewer charter flights to games than the men do and they have to stay in Marriott Residence Inns instead of the Four Seasons. (Oh the sheer inhumanity, Ed)
In the US it has been illegal for the folks to be paid different salaries for the same work since 1963, and the US Women are trying to hang their hat on this for the court case. As they say in the suit: “Plaintiffs (USWNT) are required to perform the same job duties that require equal skill, effort and responsibilities performed under similar working conditions as USMNT (men’s team) players.” Now this works well in companies or organizations where folks can be measured for the same work. It does not in the field of entertainment. Some folks are just better than others and if more folks want to see them they will get paid more.
Here are a few examples:
The men’s game is faster, more exhilarating and blessed with superb skills.
This is not taking anything away from the women, but just the way it is and will always be as long have men have such a noted physical advantage over the women. The US Women’s Team played a friendly match recently against FC Dallas U-15 Academy. They lost 5-2!
USSF actually understands all this which is why they have been trying to build the women’s game in the US as a game in its own right in a very deliberate manner. They want a great US team to be the trailblazers for the women, and so have spent large sums of money to this effect. Every women’s team member gets a regular salary and healthcare benefits from the USSF, unlike the men who only get appearance money – no play, no pay/benefits.
The USSF did this because the women have no professional league salaries to fall back on, unlike the men. The NWSL pretty much pays minimum wage except for some of the star players. In Europe, women’s professional league soccer is often supported by the men’s professional teams, who add a women’s team onto their roster and are able to pay better than USSF due to subsidies and, in some cases, higher attendances. Over here, if the USSF withdrew their support, the USWNT would cease to exist and the NWSL would fold tomorrow. Essentially, with weak attendances for all women’s soccer in the US, except for the USWNT, there would be no money available to finance women’s wages and fancy hotel rooms. So far they have been hugely successful and soccer is the number one participation sport for girls in this country.
There is a little whiff of the social justice warrior in the air. Thankfully, only one of the players, Megan Rapinoe has succumbed to the nonsense that the US is the source of all evil in the world, especially that Trump fellow. Rapinoe is bitter and aggrieved about pretty much everything and sees the lawsuit as just one more example of yet another intersectional struggle. She is constantly “taking a knee” or refusing to pay respect to her national anthem because America, bad.
She has even come out and said she will not go to the White House if the players win the World Cup this time, because Trump. Trump is probably thinking “if invited, Rapinoe, if invited….”
The players in general, though, have a view based more on their own USSF-created isolation from the vagaries of capitalism, or to put it another way, “bums on seats.” The view that if you do the same amount of training and put in the same amount of effort there is no difference in your job performance. Never mind the actual output that we can see for ourselves – the ability of Eden Hazard to drift through a whole team before slotting the ball in the net, Gareth Bale’s six foot high bicycle kick to win the Champion’s League, the mesmerizing passing game of Barcelona, etc. Folks will go to see exceptional women players like Marta (Brazil), Morgan (US), Duggan (England). They will not go to see unexceptional women players right now. Case in point – I paid $142 for tickets for my daughter and I to watch an MLS game next week (NYFC – average attendance 21,000). I could have bought two tickets to see the nearest NWSL team, Sky Blue FC in New Jersey, instead for $36 (average attendance 2,500). I didn’t.
Which is why the USSF will fight their players lawsuit by stating that “the conduct alleged in the complaint was for legitimate business reasons and not for any discriminatory or other unlawful purpose.” USSF has two distinct pay structures for the two national teams established by two different collective bargaining agreements (signed by the women players just two years ago). They will win the lawsuit, unless a court get the social justice warrior bug, as the law is pretty clear on equal pay in this country. But the players are not really fighting in a law court, they are fighting in the court of public opinion.
A refreshingly honest view on all this is provided by one of England’s star players, Toni Duggan. Duggan has done all right for herself as she now plays for Barcelona and earns a very decent salary in Spain where men’s clubs subsidize the women’s game to great effect.
Her view on whether men’s and women’s salaries in soccer should be equal is refreshingly realistic:
“No, because we don’t bring in the money that the men do, we’re not as successful as them yet.”
In fact, she’s not one for any of the nonsense that often permeates views on women’s sports.
“In Spain women’s teams are slated like the men. In the past we (England women’s team) might have lost a game and you get fans messaging you saying , ‘Ah, don’t worry, you’ve done so well.’ And it can be a bit patronizing. We’ve actually played badly and people are saying, ‘Ah, we’re so proud. Is it just because we’re the women’s team? Is it just because we’re girls?”
Duggan wants the game to be watched on its own terms, and the women should be treated like the men – no special favours, particularly same pay for lesser performance.
The US Women’s Team played their first game on Tuesday, and they did not help their cause. At the moment there are only seven teams that have the ability to win the WC (out of 24). Surprises endemic to a World Cup are therefore rare and only on the lines of a minnow running a score closer than expected (Scotland gave England a scare with their two excellent players, Cuthbert and Emslie). No surprises when the US played Thailand, however, as they destroyed one of the 17 minnow teams 13-0 in a game that was actually incredibly painful to watch. They were so carried away by their own magnificence they forgot that they effectively made a nonsense of their cause. If any of the minnows can be smashed by the whales at any point, it makes a mockery of the view that the women’s game should be rewarded the same as the men. This is exactly why there are vast gaps in the terraces when watching any of the Group stage games.
The women’s game in the US still has a long way to go to turn the excitement of the national team and the enthusiasm of so many young girls into a viable sporting league which can live without relying on the men’s game finances. But it will get there quicker as long as the USSF is not sabotaged by their own players. Oh, and it might help as well if Rapinoe stops dissing the national anthem.
She is one of the six women players that earn as much as the top six men players in the US (salaries, endorsements, etc.). US soccer and the US, in general, has been extraordinarily good to her; it might be time to repay the debt.