For those who live without benefit of the internet or newspapers, television and radio or simply go to great lengths to avoid human contact, especially with beings who like to discuss sporting events, take note: The U.S. women’s national team had a pretty good day on the World Cup soccer pitch Tuesday. And by “pretty good” we mean record setting. And by “record setting” we mean it was the 1453 Siege of Constantinople all over again with the U.S. subbing for the Ottoman Turks, except, instead of Sultan Mehmed ll leading the offense, you had Alex Morgan.
Could Sultan Mehmed play forward? History doesn’t say much about his shots per game or ball handling skills, but Ms. Morgan certainly knows greatness. She scored five goals as part of a 13-0 dismantlement of Thailand that represents the most lopsided victory in World Cup history, men or women. Not bad for a team that gets second-class pay.
That’s right, second-class pay. Because if there’s one thing Americans should know about their dominant women’s team that is regarded as a strong contender to win the Cup (although the French, British, Germans, Swedes and Japanese may have something to say about that), it’s that they are paid substantially less than their male counterparts. FIFA prize money for women is a fraction of what is paid to men. A total of $30 million is set aside for the top women’s teams this year while the men, who competed in their World Cup tournament last year, were divvying up $400 million.
But that’s only part of the story. The women are underpaid by the U.S. Soccer Federation, too. According to a lawsuit filed earlier this year by members of the U.S. women’s team, they get paid as little as 40% of what the men’s team does. For example, according to the lawsuit, women would earn about $99,000 each for winning all 20 of the “friendly” matches they're required to play each year, whereas members of the men’s team would get paid $263,320 for doing the same. And it gets worse from there with the women players pointing out that they have inferior training facilities, travel accommodations and promotions.
Bad enough that a women’s team suffers that kind of pay disparity in this day and age, but there’s really two imbalances at work. The women are by far the more successful team. The U.S. men’s team didn’t even qualify for the World Cup last year. The team needed only a draw against the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in a final qualifier in October of 2017. Instead, they lost to a team that also failed to qualify and that they had beaten badly in a previous game. It was the first time in more than two decades the U.S. men’s team hadn’t qualified for the tournament.
There are simply no good excuses for this imbalance in pay. The most watched soccer game in U.S. history isn’t anything involving the men’s team even when they were more successful. It was the last women’s World Cup final in 2015 with more than 26 million viewers. You may recall it. The U.S. team beat Japan, 5-2, in Vancouver. But then you could easily mix it up with other strong finishes by the U.S. women’s team in international competition including three World Cups, four Olympic gold medals, and eight Gold Cups. The men’s national team? Well, they did win a Gold Cup once (1985) and finished as high as third in the World Cup (1930).
That’s not to mock the men. The U.S. doesn’t have the same level of enthusiasm for The Beautiful Game that can be found in other countries. It’s estimated that 24 million Americans play soccer. Polls show it’s perhaps the nation’s fourth favorite sport behind football, basketball and baseball. For most of the rest of the planet, it’s by far the number one — with a following of 4 billion. All of which makes the U.S. women’s achievement all the more extraordinary. How embarrassing that a country that claims equality for women has failed so miserably to support its top soccer players and how shamefully it mirrors the broader issue of unequal pay. The pay gap may vary by profession, but it transcends childbearing or parenting or education level or any other explanation that’s been offered that doesn’t admit to what it really comes down to — gender discrimination. Equal pay for equal work can be the chant that brings home a World Cup from France and stirs employers back home.