It is difficult to understand the argument that the United States women’s national soccer team should get paid just as much as the men’s national soccer team.
The women are much more successful. They should earn more.
On Sunday, the 23 women selected to represent the United States at the 2019 World Cup triumphed over the Netherlands to complete a dominating run to victory. It is the second straight time the United States has won the quadrennial tournament.
During the celebrations, fans chanted “equal pay,” highlighting the fact that the United States Soccer Federation, which employs the members of the men’s and women’s national teams, has long paid larger sums to the men. Megan Rapinoe, honored as the World Cup’s top scorer and best player, used her moment in the spotlight to call on United States Soccer to “set things right for the future” by giving the women’s team a raise.
Ms. Rapinoe and her teammates have also gone to court, suing the federation in March for gender discrimination. The allegations extend beyond pay. The suit says United States Soccer also invests less in the team’s practice facilities, travel arrangements and medical care.
It is an embarrassment that United States Soccer has failed to address this injustice, allowing the joy of Sunday’s celebrations to be tainted by the reality of unfair treatment.
Pay comparisons are complicated because the men’s and women’s teams have separately negotiated contracts. Members of the women’s team are paid by the federation to play in the National Women’s Soccer League, on top of which they receive payments for playing for the national team. The men just get national team payments.
Under the current contract for the women’s team, which took effect in April 2017, the women and the men would earn the same amount if both national teams played 20 games — and lost all 20 games. With each victory, however, the men’s team would enjoy a larger advantage.
The women can earn more in a given year, as they are likely to do this year. But that is only because they achieved so much. For comparable success, the women get less.
Even by this measure, there is a case that the women are being wronged. It is not clear, for example, how United States Soccer treats sponsorships that cover both teams.
But revenue is the wrong measuring stick. United States Soccer is a nonprofit, exempted from taxation because it serves a social purpose: “To make soccer, in all its forms, a pre-eminent sport in the United States.” It should be obvious to the people who run the federation that the women’s team is fulfilling that mission at least as well as the men’s team.
The women’s soccer team, like other national teams, also represents the United States. The women who wear the nation’s colors are ambassadors on an international stage. Their performances inform perceptions of the United States. Millions of people around the world watched on Sunday as a team of strong and skillful women played a game with determination and sportsmanship, and then celebrated freely.
Much of the debate about the pay gap has focused on revenue. Officials have argued that the men’s team should simply be regarded as a more successful business.
The federation is making a statement about America by treating those women as second-class citizens. It has an opportunity to make a very different statement by rectifying the situation. Players should get the same rewards for the same achievements, without regard to gender.
The World Cup presents a special challenge because much of the money comes from FIFA, the international organization that stages the tournament and disburses the proceeds of its television deals and corporate sponsorships to the national federations. The pot of money for the men’s World Cup is larger than the women’s pot.
The women earned bonuses of $37,500 for making the 2019 World Cup team, while the men could have earned $68,750 for making the 2018 World Cup Team — if the team had qualified.
FIFA, too, should be held accountable for moving toward gender equity. But there is no need to wait. United States Soccer could make a powerful statement by equalizing these payments, too.
And the men’s national team wants to help. In 2017, Norway agreed to equalize pay for its men’s and women’s national soccer teams. To make the deal possible, the men’s team agreed to share its sponsorship revenue. Admirably, it agreed to earn less as a matter of principle. The union representing the American men’s national team has endorsed this concept.
Pay gaps are a persistent problem in American society. The case of the national soccer teams is merely an unusually clear and public example of the issue. United States Soccer and its 28 female players suing for gender discrimination have agreed to enter mediation in the hopes of resolving the players’ lawsuit. The federation now has the opportunity to create its own clear and public example — by finally doing the right thing.