Santa Fe New Mexican

Battle over equal pay remains

- By Steven Goff

PASADENA, Calif. — The 23 members of the U.S. women’s national soccer team and their outgoing coach regrouped for the start of a victory tour celebratin­g the World Cup championsh­ip won four weekends ago in France.

Their mission, however, was always about more than winning games and lifting trophies.

It was about leveling the financial playing field with the less successful men’s program and leading the global campaign for equality in a sport historical­ly favoring men.

So as the Americans prepared to play Ireland at the Rose Bowl, off-field issues overshadow­ed on-field concerns associated with the first of five celebrator­y friendlies and renewed attention on the players’ legal challenges to the U.S. Soccer Federation.

The sides agreed in June to enter mediation over a gender-discrimina­tion lawsuit filed in the spring by the players, who have complained of, among other things, inferior standards and smaller compensati­on.

The public squabble had seemingly died down in recent weeks until Carlos Cordeiro, the soccer federation’s president, wrote an open letter Monday with a “fact sheet” outlining the economics of the men’s and women’s programs.

It claimed, in part, that “separate and apart from any prize money awarded by [world governing body] FIFA — U.S. Soccer has, over the past decade, paid our women’s national team more than our men’s national team in salaries and game bonuses, and we continue to make unpreceden­ted investment­s in our women’s program.”

The letter did not go over well with the players, who were under the impression the sides would refrain from such actions while the case was pending.

The soccer federation, though, had lost badly on the public-relations front during and immediatel­y after the World Cup. Cries of “Equal Pay!” from fans rang out in France and at the ticker-tape parade in New York. Players pushed the message in national TV appearance­s.

Besides taking exception to the letter itself, the players disputed the contents of it.

“It missed the whole point,” said forward Megan Rapinoe, the most outspoken, but hardly the only, player passionate­ly engaged in the equality issue. “Everyone called BS on it.”

With a grin, she added, “I am looking forward to mediation.”

About Cordeiro using National Women’s Soccer League salaries — which the U.S. Soccer Federation underwrite — to

demonstrat­e balance in gender compensati­on, forward Christen Press said: “It’s actually a little illogical and takes away from the validity of those [NWSL] games. That’s a job we do week in and week out. You can’t count those games out. It’s two separate jobs.”

The dispute, all agree, is complicate­d. To start, the women enjoy base salaries for NWSL and national team service, regardless of how often they play or how well they perform. The men earn most of their money from clubs in MLS and around the world, collecting supplement­al cash from the soccer federation for training camps attended, games played and bonuses.

The teams negotiated separate collective bargaining agreements with the federation.

However, the women’s players’ union said, “Any apples to apples comparison shows that the men earn far more than the women.”

In the broader picture, the women’s team believes its success should provide greater reward.

“U. S. Soccer has an opportunit­y to stand by us and do what is right, and Carlos has expressed his desire to do that,” Press said. “He has an amazing opportunit­y to set a precedent for women on a global level.”

The players have the support of their coach, Jill Ellis, who on Tuesday announced she would step down this fall after

5½ years and two World Cup titles. Her last game is Oct. 6 against South Korea in Chicago.

“You have to look at what the team itself represents and what it does,” she said.

“I have a young daughter and you hope if she is doing the same work in the same capacity and has the same level of experience, I would want her to be paid the same level as her counterpar­t.

“You’ve got to look at what’s done, what the value is. I don’t know all the nuances of this — there is a lot of counterpoi­nts — but at some point it comes down to doing what’s right.”

Ellis said she is optimistic a truce will be reached and the team, with a new coach, will turn squarely toward on-field endeavors following the victory tour and two friendlies in November.

Regional qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo will take place in January and February at venues to be determined.

“Carlos spent a lot of time with us in France and saw up close and personal just how special this team is,” Ellis said. “So the hope is these conversati­ons get closer and closer in terms of an outcome.”

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