The United States’ preparations for the World Cup are in danger of being derailed by an ongoing row between the US women’s national team and the US Soccer Federation.
Twenty-eight members of the current women’s player pool have alleged the federation was guilty of “institutionalised gender discrimination” that includes unequal pay with their counterparts on the men’s national team.
However, the federation has responded by insisting that the differences in pay are the result of different collective bargaining agreements that establish distinct pay structures for the two teams.
It has claimed that every decision made “with respect to the conduct alleged in the complaint was for legitimate business reasons and not for any discriminatory or other unlawful purpose.”
Molly Levinson, a spokeswoman for the national team players who filed the lawsuit, says US Soccer’s stance is unjustified.
“There is no legal basis for USSF’s claim that it is anything other than a single employer operating both the men’s and women’s teams — who face drastically unequal conditions and pay under their shared employer,” she said.
“The USSF cannot justify its violation of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII by pointing to the teams’ separate collective bargaining agreements or any factor other than sex.
“Even as the most decorated American soccer team in history, USSF treats the women’s team as ‘less-than’ equal compared to their male colleagues. We look forward to a trial next year after the World Cup.”
The federation has claimed that any alleged differences in pay between the men’s and women’s national teams were not based on gender, but “differences in the aggregate revenue generated by the different teams and/or any other factor other than sex.”
The two parties agreed in April 2017 to a collective bargaining agreement through to 2021 that gave the players higher pay and better benefits.
The federation claims the allegations do not rise to the level required for punitive damages because there is no evidence of malicious, reckless or fraudulent intent to deny the players their rights.
The lawsuit brought by current national team players is an escalation of a long-running dispute over pay and treatment.
Five players filed a complaint in 2016 with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that alleged wage discrimination by the federation, but this latest lawsuit effectively ended that action.
The issue has certainly generated plenty of debate, with top athletes from other sports such as Serena Williams expressing strong opinions on the matter.
The players say they have been subjected to years of institutionalised gender discrimination, claiming that working conditions are less favourable for female players in comparison to their male counterparts.
This is despite the US women’s team enjoying significantly more success on the field than the men’s team by winning three World Cup titles and four Olympic gold medals.
When the women’s team won the World Cup in 2015 it was the most watched soccer game in American TV history with an audience of over 22 million people.
Their success has generated substantial profits for US Soccer, but the lawsuit claims that the players are still fighting for treatment that reflects their achievements and contributions to the sport.
While the row hasn’t affected the team’s form over the past couple of years – they have lost just once in their last 35 matches – it certainly has the potential to have an impact at the World Cup this summer.
There have been numerous previous examples of teams playing at major tournaments with off-field issues left unresolved and their performances being affected.
With the issue likely to rumble on for some time yet, it is hoped that the players can put the argument to the back of their minds and showcase their undoubted talent in France.
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