NEW YORK • The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) on Monday released a lengthy fact sheet detailing its financial commitment to the women's national team (USWNT), stepping squarely into the debate about equal pay only weeks before both sides are scheduled to enter mediation to try to resolve the players' federal gender discrimination lawsuit.
Outlining the federation's position in an open letter, USSF president Carlos Cordeiro produced an analysis of 10 years of financial data that he said showed the players on the women's team had actually earned more from US Soccer than their male counterparts.
He also highlighted tens of millions of dollars of investment by the federation in women's football, noting specifically more than US$18 million (S$24.6 million) in direct support for the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) and millions more in spending on youth programmes.
The debate about equal pay and equitable treatment raged long before the team won an unprecedented fourth Women's World Cup, beating the Netherlands 2-0 in the final earlier this month to cap a 100 per cent record in France.
Talk of pay and fairness had threatened to overshadow the start of the quadrennial event, in part because 28 members of the team filed suit against USSF in March, arguing they were victims of years of "institutionalised gender discrimination" that affected not only their incomes, but nearly every feature of their interactions with US Soccer.
The resulting glow has been part of an uneasy truce between the team and the federation, one that held as the players were feted by fans and politicians, and hailed in interviews and appearances.
But the issue never lingered far from the stage; the players heard chants of "Equal pay!" even before they received their winner's medals at the World Cup, while USSF officials were heckled by the same mantra during the ticker-tape celebration parade in New York.
Cordeiro said US Soccer had made "a deliberate decision" not to debate the facts of the lawsuit or the broader equal pay fight while the team was preparing to defend their title.
His letter, however, seemed to be an acknowledgement that recent events - including pressure from corporations and at least one USSF sponsor, as well as efforts in Congress that could imperil funding to prepare for the 2026 World Cup to be held in North America - had forced the federation to engage.
Even as Cordeiro heaped praise on the players who have argued publicly and loudly for better treatment - calling them "an inspiration to us all and truly some of the greatest athletes that our nation has ever produced" - he also raised familiar arguments about why their pay was different such as differing compensation structures.
USWNT players have a guaranteed base salary of US$100,000, on top of a basic wage of US$67,500 to US$72,500 for playing in the NWSL, while the men have no guaranteed pay, are not paid by USSF for playing in Major League Soccer, and only get paid for training camps, games and bonuses.
The women also have guaranteed benefits, including health and dental insurance, unlike the men, and while the latter are entitled to larger bonuses, these are not guaranteed.
According to the USSF, the men's team also bring in more revenue, generating US$185.7 million since 2009, while the women have generated US$101.3 million in that same period, with the former playing 191 games, 47 fewer than the latter.
As for the World Cup, the prize money is set by Fifa, with France, last year's winner of the men's tournament taking home US$38 million from a total pool of about US$400 million. In contrast, the total prize money for the women's event is just US$30 million, with the US receiving US$4 million.
While USSF attributes the gap to the total prize amount provided by world football's governing body, Jeffery Kessler, an attorney acting for the women's team, believes the domestic body have "an obligation under US law to provide equal pay regardless of how Fifa discriminates".
Also, in documents obtained by The Guardian, the men's team "earn exclusive bonuses such as US$218,750 for every point earned during the group stage of a World Cup".
The women's team amassed a perfect nine points in Group A and could have earned an extra US$1.97 million had that bonus been applied to them.
And the backlash was as swift as it was inevitable, with Molly Levinson, a spokesman for the players, labelling the conclusions as "utterly false" and the release of it "a ruse" to change a conversation the federation was losing in the public square.
She said: "This is a sad attempt by USSF to quell the overwhelming tide of support the USWNT has received from everyone from fans to sponsors to the United States Congress.
"The USSF has repeatedly admitted that it does not pay the women equally and that it does not believe the women even deserve to be paid equally."
Levinson also contended the federation included the players' NWSL salaries to inflate their national team pay and that Cordeiro's fact sheet was not "a clarification".
She added: "For every game a man plays on the men's national team, he makes a higher base salary payment than a woman on the women's national team.
"For every comparable win or tie, his bonus is higher. That is the very definition of gender discrimination. For the USSF to believe otherwise is disheartening, but it only increases our determination to obtain true equal pay.
"If the USSF cannot agree to this at the upcoming mediation, we will see them in the court of law and the court of public opinion."
NY TIMES, WASHINGTON POST