There were two moments at the World Cup when I witnessed soccer fans unite for the common good across national lines: When the women’s restroom ran out of toilet paper during half time of the semifinals, and when the nearly 58,000 fans at the Stade de Lyon erupted into an “equal pay” chant as soon as the FIFA president took the stage during the awards ceremony.
The fans haven’t stopped chanting since.
Today, the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT) celebrated their fourth World Cup victory with a ticker-tape parade in New York City. In response to persistent equal pay chants, the U.S. Soccer Federation President Carlos Cordeiro vowed to “continue to invest more in women’s soccer than any country in the world and we will continue to encourage others, including our friends at FIFA, to do the same. We believe at U.S. Soccer that all female athletes deserve fair and equitable pay.”
Just under a hundred days before their first World Cup match (in which they would score a record-breaking 13 goals), every member of the team filed a class action, gender discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation. The timing of the announcement conveyed that the 23 other teams in the tournament would not be the only opponents of the USWNT this World Cup. Today, four months and one World Cup trophy later, the team used shredded pieces of their lawsuit as celebratory confetti.
In the lawsuit, the athletes allege that their employer awarded the Men’s National Team (MNT) much better pay than the WNT stating, “A 20-game winning top tier WNT player would earn only 38% of the compensation of a similarly situated MNT player.” They also accused their employer of creating better “working conditions” for the MNT — from higher-quality fields, to chartered flights, to greater investment in game promotion.
Even if the women's games are promoted less, they still — at least in recent years — have produced more profit than the men’s games. According to the Washington Post, the WNT games generated $900,000 more in revenue than the MNT games from 2016 to 2018.
The gender pay gap is common across all sports to varying degrees. Serena Williams was the only woman to make Forbes’ 2019 ranking of “The World’s Highest Paid Athletes.” Notably, tennis is the only sport that has had such a visible and championed battle for equal pay.
For feminist tennis-phenom Billie Jean King, competing in the famed “Battle of the Sexes” match against Bobby Riggs was the natural next step for her to take in her fight for equal pay and treatment of female tennis athletes. The U.S. Open became the first prominent tournament to achieve gender pay equity after King threatened to sit out the U.S. Open in 1973 if the prize money for the top man exceeded that of the victorious woman.
“Everyone thinks women should be thrilled when we get crumbs,” King famously said. “And I want women to have the cake, the icing, and the cherry on top, too.”
This USWNT wants the cake. They want to sip tea after defeating England in the semifinals. They want to spray champagne in the locker room after becoming the repeat champs. And they want equal pay for equal play.