Last summer was one of the best moments in the history of soccer in America. The United States finally accomplished its goal of winning a World Cup. No, it was not the men, who are still seeking their first World Cup victory. Rather, it was the women who won the title for the third time in history. It was supremely entertaining and their journey captivated the entire nation. The finals against Japan even set a record for the most-watched soccer match in US history, maxing out at over 23 million viewers. People loved the team for its incredible heart, top-notch skill and good nature. They piqued the interest of girls everywhere with their #SheBelieves campaign, which delivered the message that young girls can achieve their dreams through hard work and never taking no for an answer. Knowing all of that makes it hard to believe that the team may boycott the 2016 Olympics.
The trouble started before the 2015 World Cup when the women heard that they would be forced to play on field turf instead of natural grass. The men’s World Cup has been played on natural grass since 1930 due to the fact that it’s safer. The women’s team felt that the institution of turf was gender discrimination and sued FIFA. They felt as though they weren’t getting equal treatment simply because they were women.
The lawsuit was eventually dropped due to a filibuster instituted by FIFA. This lasted until the start of the World Cup, at which point it was too late for any verdict to be reached as play was about to begin. Once the lawsuit was dropped, then-captain Abby Wambach came out and said, “I am hopeful that the players’ willingness to contest the unequal playing fields — and the tremendous public support we received during the effort — marks the start of even greater activism to ensure fair treatment when it comes to women’s sports.”
The women are currently in the midst of another legal battle involving unequal treatment, this time in the form of unequal pay. Five players have come together on behalf of the team and filed a wage discrimination action against United States Soccer. The women claim that they make, on average, four times less than their male counterparts. A recent PBS article actually found the gap to be even larger; men who made the 24-person roster made an average of $76 thousand, while the women only made $15 thousand. If the men were to win the World Cup, their team would get $9.3 million dollars to split amongst the players. The women’s team would only get $1.8 million. A disparity this large is unacceptable and incomprehensible.
The most shocking piece of information is that the women bring in twice the revenue that the men do. In their report, they claimed that they make $20 million more in revenue, and while PBS found that the number is closer to $10 million, the point remains the same. How can a team bring home so much less when they rake in so much more? That statistic even caught the attention of former men’s soccer star Landon Donovan, who tweeted, “I’m not for equal pay, I’m for fair pay. If #USWNT generate more revenue, they should be paid more.”
The women are not going to give up easily either. They have come together as a team and said that they are willing to see this all the way through. They hope to remain in the Olympics, but will boycott if it means standing up for their rights. In a recent interview with ESPNW, Becky Sauerbrunn, one of the five players who filed the complaint, had this to say of the potential boycott: “It would still be on the table. We are reserving every right to do so and we’re leaving every avenue open. And if nothing has changed, if we don’t feel real progress has been made, then that’s a conversation that we’re going to have.”
The fact that these athletes can’t get something as basic as grass fields shows that this will be an uphill battle, but not a hopeless one. Pay gaps in women’s sports are a continuing problem, and not much has been done to change them. As Americans we should be proud that these women are standing up for what they know they deserve.
The Women’s National Teams’ message to young girls is that they can accomplish their goals, and they can overcome any obstacle that comes before them. We are all rooting for you ladies, and #WeBelieve.