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US Soccer equalises pay for women, men in milestone agreement

Players had pressured the league in years-long gender discrimination legislation whose settlement required equalisation.

Megan Rapinoe kicking a soccer ball on the field
United States' Megan Rapinoe scores her side's opening goal from the penalty shot during the Women's World Cup final in 2019 [File: David Vincent/The Associated Press]

The United States Soccer Federation has reached milestone agreements to pay its men’s and women’s teams equally, the first of their kind in the sport.

The announcement on Wednesday ended years of acrimonious negotiations with unions for both teams and followed a high-profile push by players on the women’s team, which unlike the men’s team has been dominant in international tournaments, for pay parity.

A $26m settlement in a gender discrimination lawsuit brought by some players in 2019 was contingent on reaching labor contracts that equalised pay and bonuses between the two teams. The new contracts extend through December 2028.

“I feel a lot of pride for the girls who are going to see this growing up, and recognise their value rather than having to fight for it,” US forward Margaret Purce said following the announcement.

“However, my dad always told me that you don’t get rewarded for doing what you’re supposed to do – and paying men and women equally is what you’re supposed to do,” she added. “So I’m not giving out any gold stars, but I’m grateful for this accomplishment and for all the people who came together to make it so.”

Megan Rapinoe speaks
United States women’s national soccer team member Megan Rapinoe speaks to reporters after a settlement was reached in a gender discrimination lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation [File: Seth Wenig/The Associated Press]

The agreement includes a first-of its kind scheme to pool FIFA World Cup prize money, which is based on how far a team advances in the tournament, across both the men’s and women’s teams. Each player will then receive matching game appearance payments. The current agreement covers the men’s World Cup in November, next year’s women’s World Cup, and the tournaments in 2026 and 2027.

Men’s team member Walker Zimmerman, a US National Team Players Association leadership group, players saw the negotiations as an “opportunity to be leaders in this front and join in with the women’s side and US Soccer. So we’re just excited that this is how we were able to get the deal done”.

US Soccer had previously based bonuses on payments from FIFA, which earmarked $400m for the 2018 men’s tournament, including $38m to champion France, and $30m for the 2019 women’s tournament, including $4m to the US champions.

FIFA has increased the total to $440m for the 2022 men’s World Cup, and its president, Gianni Infantino, has proposed that FIFA double the women’s prize money to $60m for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, in which FIFA has increased the teams to 32.

The US women’s team has been the most successful of any country’s team since the first women’s World Cup in 1991. They have qualified for every tournament and won four championships, most recently in 2015 and 2019.

US Soccer
The US women’s team, the most successful of any team in the history of the women’s World Cup celebrates the 2019 tournament win [File: Alessandra Tarantino/The Associated Press]

The men’s team, which will compete in the World Cup in Qatar in November, missed qualification for the tournament in 2018 and has never won the championship.

US Soccer President Cindy Parlow Cone, a former national team player who became head of the governing body in 2020 hailed the agreement as “a real credit to all the different groups coming together, negotiating at one table”.

“I think that’s where the turning point really happened. Before, trying to negotiate a CBA with the women and then turn around and negotiate CBA terms with the men and vice versa, was really challenging. I think the real turning point was when we finally were all in the same room sitting at the same table, working together and collaborating to reach this goal.”

Under the agreement, for lesser tournaments, such as those run by the governing body of North America, players will earn identical game bonuses. And for exhibition games, players will receive matching appearance fees and performance payments based on the match result and opponent rank.

The women and men also will receive a portion of commercial revenue from tickets for matches controlled by the USSF, with bonuses for sellouts, and each team will get a portion of broadcast, partner and sponsor revenue, although the women gave up guaranteed base salaries in reaching the agreement.

The men will also have child care covered during national team training camps and matches, a benefit the women have had for 25 years.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies