After six years of litigation and negotiation, the US Soccer Federation reached an agreement with the teams’ unions to pay both their women and men’s teams equally, the first national governing body in the sport to do so.
Before the collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) were solidified, the women’s soccer team was woefully underpaid – despite having won four World Cups. During the 2019 World Cup, for instance, the US women’s team received a bonus of $110,000 for winning the tournament. Had the men’s team won, they would have been awarded $407,000.
The US federation’s pay scale for bonuses was previously modeled on FIFA’s prize money scale. FIFA paid the US women’s team $4 million dollars for becoming the 2019 champions. Conversely, the US men’s team in 2018, had they qualified and exited in the first round, would have gained $8 million, and during the 2019 World Cup, the men’s team from France garnered $38 million for becoming champions.
The CBA for the women’s team technically expired in March of this year, but the momentum of negotiations has been ramping up since the women’s team slapped the federation with a gender discimination lawsuit in 2019, leading to a settlement agreement. The settlement, which paid out $24 million in damages (about one-third of what the women’s team demanded), was contingent on establishing new CBAs to guarantee equal pay between the teams. The lawsuit was settled in February and announced earlier this month, and the new agreements will last until 2028.
Andrea Schneider, law professor at Marquette University and Director of the Institute for Women’s Leadership, voiced her hope for a more equitable society going forward. “This agreement hopefully inspires others to insist on equal opportunity, equal facilities, equal coaching and equal talented coaching at all levels. That itself promotes equality,” said Schneider. “I hope it gives everybody hope and inspiration to push forward.”
Women athletes are part of a long legacy of fighters for equal opportunity. Fifty years before this milestone deal, Title IX was passed in 1972, prohibiting gender discriminatory practices in federally-funded schools. Since its establishment, Title IX led to a massive proliferation of women’s sports programs in schools and colleges across the nation, Wisconsin included.
Before Title IX, the University of Wisconsin (UW) had only a women’s boating and basketball team established in the 1890s, followed by interclass competitive bowling, hockey, tennis and golf introduced by the Women’s Athletic Association in 1902. Without intercollegiate, interstate, or national competition, the women athletes of Wisconsin were not given room to flourish.
The 1970s led to a boom of women’s sports with the Division of Girls’ and Women’s Sports sponsoring intercollegiate events. D’Lynn Damron, member of UW’s diving team, became the first women’s national champion for Wisconsin in 1970, and in her wake followed a long line of Wisconsin athletes breaking records and taking titles.
Following UW’s varsity women’s rowing team becoming national champions in 1975, women in sports were finally given the opportunity to earn scholarships through athletic achievement, leading to Gilda Hudson-Winfield, the first Black female student-athlete at UW, earning her scholarship for her incredible 100-yard dash.
Wisconsin’s women athletes reached national acclaim when Carie Graves in 1984 became the first Olympic gold medalist from Wisconsin as part of the rowing team, and in 1992 when Hall-of-Famer Robin Threatt became the first UW athlete to play in the Women’s National Basketball Association.
No one deserves equal pay more than Wisconsin women in sports who time and time again have shattered records, set precedents, and continue to compete and dominate the field and court. Progress still needs to be made as professional female athletes in basketball, tennis, and other sports remain underpaid compared to men in the same fields. Perhaps other governing bodies, like FIFA and the WNBA, will soon follow in the direction of the US Soccer Federation.