U.S. women’s football team battles equal pay ahead of Tokyo Olympics



When the final whistle sounded in the Lyon stadium in France, the United States women’s football team took the field by storm. After 90 minutes of the biggest game of their lives, the team were ready to lift the 2019 World Cup trophy after beating the Netherlands 2-0.

The celebrations on the pitch that year were pretty much the same: hugs, tears, cheers. But, in the stands, something was different. Instead of the usual “USA” chants, the crowd shouted “Equal Pay! “

The team’s fight for their fourth World Cup had just ended, but a new battle had begun.

As the United States Women’s National Team now prepares to travel to Tokyo, where they will compete to be the first team in women’s football history to win a back-to-back Olympic World Cup and Olympic gold medal , calls for equal pay for women in sport has restarted.

The dialogue resurfaced with the release last week of HBO’s documentary “LFG” Max, which follows the team’s fight for equal pay that began when the team sued its employer, US Soccer, three. just months before the 2019 World Cup.

In this photo from July 7, 2019, United States midfielder Rose Lavelle (16) and defender Ali Krieger (11) celebrate after beating the Netherlands in the Women's World Cup championship match of the FIFA at the Stade de Lyon.  Richard Martin / Sports Press via USA TODAY

Last week, a group of U.S. senators also reintroduced the Even Playing Field Act, a bill that calls for equal pay, investment and working conditions for all athletes, coaches and staff on national teams. . The bill was first introduced in July 2019 in the wake of the World Cup.

The national team has been outspoken in its fight for equal pay over the years. The song “for equal pay” is now commonplace in the stands of professional women’s football matches – a bit of a rallying cry for the countless supporters of the team. Earlier this year, forward Megan Rapinoe testified virtually at a House Oversight Committee hearing that focused on underpaid women in the workplace.

“What we have learned, and what we continue to learn, is that there is no level of status – and there is no achievement or power – that will protect you from the clutches of the iniquity, ”Rapinoe said in her testimony. “You can’t just beat inequality or be good enough to escape all forms of discrimination.”

Rapinoe also spoke at the White House on Equal Pay Day – which symbolizes how far a woman must work to earn what her male peers earned the year before.

The USWNT lawsuit, led by star striker Alex Morgan, was filed on International Women’s Day in 2019. The lawsuit alleged the team had been subjected to years of treatment and abuse. ‘unequal compensation, despite several World Cups and Olympic gold medals.

A fan holds up a sign "Equal game" on the one hand, "Equal salary" the other.  Sky Blue FC and Reign FC are tied 1-1 at halftime on Sunday August 18, 2019 in Harrison.

In April, a federal judge approved a partial settlement of the case – which allowed the team to appeal against a dismissal by that same judge last year.

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Last year, Judge R. Gary Klausner of the United States District Court for the Central District of California dismissed the players’ most prominent claims that they were systematically underpaid by US Soccer. In the days after the settlement was approved, the team asked a federal appeals court to overturn Klausner’s earlier ruling.

Megan Rapinoe of the United States celebrates after scoring the first goal at the 2019 World Cup. Rapinoe is back with the United States national team after being out for most of the last year.

“For every victory, loss and draw that the players win, they are paid less than the men who play the same sport and do the same job; it’s gender discrimination, ”said player spokesperson Molly Levinson in a statement at the time. “A pervasive atmosphere of sexism has led to this wage discrimination. “

Both parties were invited to submit briefs over the summer.

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Bigger than sport

The Women’s National Team is likely to be a North Star for equal pay for women in sport and women in the workplace. On a larger scale, achieving equity at the highest level of sport could translate into improvements at all levels, including for young people.

Kim Turner, project director and senior lawyer at Fair Play for Girls in Sports, said there is a connection between the way female athletes at the professional and university level are treated and the way young female athletes are treated.

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“One can easily relate a middle school student who knows substandard locker rooms, team rooms, training and play facilities and a college where professional female athletes are also captivated by the city,” the program, the league versus their men. counterparts, ”Turner said.

Fair Play for Girls in Sports is a project of Legal Aid at Work, a century-old organization that provides free legal services to low-income people. In his role, Turner focuses on the pursuit of institutional equity at the K-12 level through the application of Title IX by ensuring that athletes have equal resources.

“My point is that Alex Morgan and his ‘equal pay, equal play’ campaign and trial are taking place on the street with the girl who lives two doors down,” Turner said. “It’s Alex Morgan who has the same struggles against inequalities with his school, his park and his leisure activities. There is a connection between the battle of the United States women’s football team for fairness, conditions and pay, and the girls in our own towns and cities who face absolutely the same gender-based injustice.

Fans are holding signs reading,

It’s no secret that the National Women’s Football Team has made an impact on women’s football in the United States. This was most evident in 1999, when the team won their second World Cup title in a historic game against China at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

America quickly fell in love with football, and the “99ers” – as that year’s team is known – were propelled into American royalty after winning the game in a penalty shootout.

This game also gave sports the iconic image of Brandi Chastain sliding to her knees in a sports bra, fists raised. In one hand, she clutched her jersey, while shouting at the 90,000 fans inside the Rose Bowl after scoring the winning kick.

In this photo from July 10, 1999, Brandi Chastain of the United States celebrates after scoring the game-winning penalty against China in the FIFA Women's World Cup final at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.  The San Francisco Examiner / LACY ATKINS

Shortly after the 1999 victory, the Women’s National Team rallied – much like the USWNT did in 2019. Back then, women were simply fighting for the basic right to play football. and earn a reasonable salary while doing it.

In ESPN’s “Back Pass” 30 for 30 podcast, former players like Julie Foudy recounted their struggle to build a professional league. They organized and hired a lawyer and fought with US Soccer to invest in a new women’s league so that its players could have a good game.

By this time, US Soccer had invested millions to help Major League Soccer take off, and players felt the federation viewed their proposed league as a competition. The women eventually found an investor and formed the Women’s United Soccer Association, which only lasted three seasons.

Today, women’s football in the United States is booming, with expanding teams like Angel City FC in Los Angeles and others on the bridge to make their debut in the National Women’s Soccer League in the years to come. The growth is likely fueled by every international title won by the USWNT, which could include another with an Olympic gold in August.

On July 10, 1999, the national team won their second World Cup. America barely noticed that the team had won their first eight years ago. On July 7, 2019, the team won their fourth.

But the players’ fight for equality? Much of that remains the same 20 years later.

Melanie Anzidei is a reporter for NorthJersey.com. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @melanieanzidei


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