Women’s football regulations a historic win for fairness

Female athletes continue to face opponents on and off the field, they are constantly told that they are not good enough or strong enough, that they are boring to watch, that they rejoice too much when they win and that they cry too much when they lose. But a $24 million settlement between the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) and the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), announced in a court filing on Tuesday, is a reminder that the bottom line remains clear: give women’s sports the means to obtain results, but do not wait for the results to invest in women’s sports.

Over the time the USWNT has been disagree on equal pay with the USSF (its own governing body), players have endured slights both big and small, from being asked to play on injury-risk artificial turf to enduring vitriol in the hands of a sitting US president.

In March 2019, when 28 USWNT players signed a gender discrimination lawsuit filed under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, citing inequality salary as well as working conditions, they probably had no idea of ​​the magnitude of a year. it would be for their team. They demolished – to much (unfounded) condemnation and criticism for an alleged lack of sportsmanship – Thailand 13-0 in the first rounds of the Women’s World Cup that summer, the biggest margin of victory in history of the World Cup.

Their victory over the Netherlands in the final, 2-0, with stunning goals from Megan Rapinoe from a penalty and Rose Lavelle from a solid solo run, further confirmed the upward direction taken by the sport’s women’s team on most popular in the world. (Note that the runner-up, the Dutchwoman, whose women’s team became European champions just 10 years after launching a professional league, had already set up a pay equity grid which will enable pay equity for both men’s and women’s teams by next year.)

With victory assured and American fans in the stands in France chanting “equal pay” at the trophy ceremony, the USWNT had not only defended their 2015 crown, but also possessed half of all Women’s World Cup titles.

Yet the American women returned home for their trial, which met with a major hurdle when federal judge Gary Klausner ruled that because of the number of games the women played per year, they actually made more money. than their male counterparts. In July 2021, the USWNT appealed the move, saying Klausner’s take “defied reality” and ignored the fact that women had to win more matches than men to collect their bonus.

He also ignored hard numbers generated by the USWNT, such as the 1.12 billion viewers that FIFA claimed to have watched the final (despite the fact that FIFA planned to play at the same time as the Gold Cup and COPA America) and the number of Nike shirts soldmaking the USWNT home kit the best-selling soccer jersey, men’s or women’s, for a single season in company history.

Now, a groundbreaking settlement – plus bonuses – finally lays the groundwork for women to be on equal footing with their male counterparts. Although the amount is less than the $66 million requested by the players in their lawsuit, the breach of the agreement splits some $22 million between the players, as well as a $2 million fund that will support the players after their retirement and will contribute to developing the feminine side. of sports.

World Cup bonuses for men and women will be equal, as will the rate of pay. Both parties issued a joint statement in which they announced that they would “stand proudly united in a common commitment to advancing equality in football”.

Rather than dwelling on the past, the agreement looks to the future, ensuring that “justice”, as declared by vocal team leader Megan Rapinoe, “comes into the next generation never having to go through what we’ve been through”, a familiar refrain from grandmothers, from suffragettes to those who campaigned for the ERA.

That said, it’s hard to forget the language of the USSF throughout the case, especially when a legal filing claims that women “do not perform equal work requiring skill.” [and] effort” and their overall ability was marred by “the level of certain physical attributes such as speed and strength,” was made public in March 2020. After the filing was released, USSF President Carlos Cordeiro, resigned and was replaced by former player Cindy Parlow. Cone (member of the legendary “99ers” who won the 1999 Women’s World Cup at the Rose Bowl).

While the USWNT’s overwhelming legacy of success can be seen in its impressive scores, high ratings, revenue generation and storied record, the rationale for creating equal treatment between men’s and women’s teams should be that it’s the right thing. to do. Merchandise sales and ratings are certainly important, but they don’t have to be equalizers.

Leaders in women’s sport have proven to be among the most visible advocates for the issues facing women in society. Athletes like Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka and, more recently, Mikaela Shiffrin have spoken openly and honestly about mental, not just physical, wellness. Football’s Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly (with backing from A-list stars like Alex Morgan) bravely spoke out about their sexual misconduct allegations against coach Paul Riley (who denied them but was fired from his job). And the apparent body of American gymnasts, including Biles, not only brought justice to the victims of sexual predator Larry Nassar, but testified before Congress to ensure those who allowed the abuse to continue are brought to light.

In that vein, this case, started by 28 football players who wanted to fight decades of discrimination by their subordinates, should be seen as much more than a victory on the pitch or an attempt to change policy. Rather, it’s about changing the culture that surrounds not just women’s sport, but women more broadly.

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