By Maha Ahmad and Ifrah Allaudin
You might have seen the video of a purple, pixie-haired football player celebrating her FIFA world cup win and talking about equality that was all over social media. That’s Meghan Rapinoe; Co-captain of the United States women’s national soccer team (USWNT). This year the US team won its fourth World Cup title to date and their second consecutive title win.
USWNT’s rustle for equal pay dates back to 2015, when they won their third World Cup. The players of USWNT get $110,000 each for lifting the World Cup compared to $407,608 each for the men. The disparity does not start here; there are differences in male and female earnings for national soccer players when each individual player is called to play for the World Cup, when the team qualifies for the World Cup, advances to knockout stages and wins qualification games. On average, the maximum a male player can earn is a staggering 4.27 times higher than the maximum a female can earn.
The US Soccer Federation (USF) contend that the pay structures for men and women are disparate, and hence complicated to compare. For instance, women are paid an annual salary of $100,000 per player; men do not earn a salary and rely entirely on bonuses and win earnings. The women assert that salary accounted for, the bonus structure is such that it puts men far ahead. Both male and female teams are required to play 20 friendlies per year. According to the NY Times, the pay is so skewed that yearly earnings for men if they lose all 20 friendlies is more than the yearly earnings of women if they win all 20 friendlies! This holds after factoring in the women’s yearly salary. USF is not the only organization responsible for discrimination.
International tournaments are no different. The prize money for the 2018 men’s FIFA World Cup was $400 million, whereas female players received $30 million this year. FIFA President Gianni Infantino said the organization will double it for the next women’s World Cup, but Rapinoe has her doubts and said there would still be a long way to go. “It certainly is not fair,” she said. “We should double it now and use that number to double it or quadruple it for the next time.”
The USWNT generates more gate revenues (through ticket sales) and attracts higher ratings than their male counterparts. Last year they brought in $1.9 million more in gate revenues than the men’s team. Other revenues are mainly attributed to sponsorships and broadcasting, which can be tricky to thread out as US Soccer sells sponsorships and broadcasting as a joint package. Nonetheless, there is ample reason to believe that revenue has been further boosted due to the recent success and shoot to stardom by the women’s team. According to Nike CEO Mike Parker, “The USA Women’s home jersey is now the No. 1 soccer jersey, men’s or women’s, ever sold on Nike.com in one season”. In 2015, 25.4 million people in America tuned in to watch the FIFA World Cup Final between Japan and US, making it the most watched soccer match – male or female – in the history of the country.
In March 2019, the USWNT sued the USF for pay discrimination. During the Victory Rally for their 2019 World Cup win, the President of USF’s speech was interrupted by chants of ‘equal pay’ from the crowd. Mediation began but USWNT spokesperson Molly Levinson said the meetings ended abruptly and a trial looks likely. “It’s clear that USF … intend to continue to compensate women players less than men. They will not succeed,” Levinson said. “We want all of our fans, sponsors, peers around the world, and women everywhere to know we are undaunted and will eagerly look forward to a jury trial.”
The USWNT is not waging a new war; gender-based pay discrimination spans decades and the entire range of sports. The USWNT, in their fight for equal pay, join the likes of distance runner Kathrine Switzer (disguised herself as a man to compete in the 1967 Boston Marathon, since women were not allowed) and tennis maestros Billie Jean King (who challenged and defeated Number 1 ranked male tennis player and known chauvinist Bobby Riggs in a famous match known commonly as battle of the sexes, 1973) and Venus Williams (helped win equal pay for women in Wimbledon, 2007).
These women have garnered support, respect and love across the globe. They have won 4 World Cups out of the 8 World Cup tournaments held for women, and 4 Olympics gold medals out of the 6 Olympics soccer events held for women. A win against pay discrimination would be a win for us all. Rapinoe has gone down as the face of the Women’s Football World Cup 2019, and the voice of it.
Maha Ahmad is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Economics, NUST, and ex Vice Captain of the Islamabad Women’s football team.
Ifrah Allaudin is an Economics graduate and a Manchester United supporter. She is a Management Trainee at Brainchild, Islamabad