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Series – Part 1 of 3: The Global Fight for Equality in Women’s Sports

Photo labeled for reuse. Photo credit: Rachael King courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

After winning the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) began preparing for a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) in hopes of reducing the gender discrimination that is evident in the sports industry.

USWNT dressed in blue uniforms with rainbow colored numbers holding hands.
Photo labeled for reuse. Photo credit: Jamie Smed courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

What Does the Lawsuit Entail?

On March 8th, International Women’s Day, all 28 members of the USWNT filed a lawsuit against the USSF based upon the grounds of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The women argue that they are paid less than the men even when outperforming and often times playing in more games throughout the season.

On November 8th, a judge accepted the players’ motion to make the lawsuit a class-action lawsuit. In Journalist Emily Kaplan’s ESPN.com article “U.S. women’s soccer equal pay fight: What’s the latest, and what’s next?,” Player Spokesperson Molly Levinson, the players’ spokesperson commented on the class-action lawsuit, calling it “a historic step forward in the struggle to achieve equal pay.”

The lawsuit outlines more than just the money. The USWNT also mentioned the poor playing conditions compared to men. According to Kaplan‘s article, the USWNT played 13 of their 62 total domestic matches on artificial turf, while the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) played 1 of their 49 total domestic matches on artificial turf. The women argue that man-made turf is harsher on the body compared to natural grass. The lawsuit also outlines women having lesser travel accommodations; the men’s team traveled on chartered flights at least 17 times while the women’s team had 0 chartered flights in 2017.

Potential Solutions

According to a CBS Sports article, the lawsuit proposes a revenue-sharing model where player compensation for the men’s and women’s team would be directly linked to the revenue they generate. The USMNT has been supportive of the lawsuit and the revenue-sharing model proposed.

Sponsors and brands have also helped show support for the lawsuit. LUNA Bar, Secret Deodorant and many more have donated a significant amount of money to the USWNT. Although, according to an ESPN article, experts in the industry say brand and sponsor deals have not historically leveled the playing field.

Will Sherratt, a former sports anchor and reporter for Spectrum News and KXYL radio station in Texas explains the significance of the USWNT’s attempt at equal pay.

“From the business side, the great thing about the women’s World Cup team is they can point to the numbers and go, look how many people are tuning in to watch us. We have hard evidence that people actually care as much if not more about us than the men’s team.”

Will Sherrat in his interview.

Potential Effects on Other Women’s Sports

Women's Hockey team in white uniforms at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Photo labeled for reuse. Photo credit: Peter Wayne courtesy of Peter Wayne Photography.

Even though the class-action lawsuit is still ongoing, the United States (U.S.) is already seeing changes in other women’s sports. The U.S. women’s national hockey team threatened a boycott against USA Hockey before the 2017 IIHF World Championships. ESPN reports that USA Hockey responded by agreeing to a four-year deal that improves the team’s annual compensation to around $70,000 per player. The U.S. women’s hockey team went on to win gold at the 2018 Olympics. Players in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) are also exercising their equality rights by opting out of their collective bargaining agreements. Although most women in the WNBA aren’t expecting to match their male National Basketball Association (NBA) counterpart’s salaries, Kaplan writes how they do not believe they are being paid what they’re worth.

No doubt, women have experienced gender discrimination as players and in the sports industry as a whole. The visual diversity that may hinder women’s careers is a significant issue around the world today. The USWNT is a perfect example of the push for women to receive equal pay and equal working conditions in the sports industry.

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