Exploring the pay gap between Men’s and Women’s soccer 

By Grace Pointner 

Men are stronger than women. Yes? Science gives you a very literal answer to this question. Feminists or women’s rights activists will give you a more ethical one. But in the realm of sports, do we dare ask this question literally? Can we even begin to compare male and female athletes on the basis of “strength”? 

There are countless articles, essays and books written on the topic of “women’s rights in sports”. Specifically attempting to answer questions about the connection between skill and pay, critics use the National Women’s Soccer Team as a poster child for change. With a better record—including four World Cup Titles and four Olympic Gold Medals— and more fans, the women on the WNST deserve to be acknowledged. Some would say they deserve higher pay, but most are simply fighting for equal pay between the Men’s and Women’s National Soccer teams. They are fighting for change.

Even famous politicians are involving themselves in the controversy, such as Elizabeth Warren who tweeted, “The USWNT is the #1 in the world & contributes higher revenues for USSoccer than the men’s team, but they’re still paid a fraction of what the men earn. Women deserve equal pay for equal (or better!) work in offices, factories, AND on the soccer field.” Nearly five thousands retweets later, nothing has changed.

Although years of this economic disparity have marched on, in March of 2019 the USWNT took matters into their own hands. Suing the U.S. Soccer Federation, the entire team demanded equal pay and treatment. Considering their superior rank and consistently higher stats, the USWNT also claimed to bring in more profit than the men’s team. 

However, the team lost the law suit due to the claim that the pay gap is “based on differences in aggregate revenue generated by the different teams and/or any other factor other than sex.” Men’s Soccer and Women’s soccer are “physically and functionally separate organizations.” Payment is therefore relative.

Structural Issues

During the case, the fiscal accounts of the U.S. Soccer Federation were examined to better understand how the breakdown of payment functions. It was found that the U.S. Soccer Federation was valued at $101.4 million, earning most of this from sponsors and ticket sales. How much the men’s and women’s teams contributed to these numbers was meaningless. Instead, the structures set in place to distribute these earnings is where the acclaimed discrimination lays.

Moreover, the women’s national team receives different bonuses and base pay because “they specifically asked for and negotiated a completely different contract than the men’s national team, despite being offered, and rejecting, a similar pay-to-play agreement during the past negotiations,” the Federation claimed. It seemed that the women wanted a contract with more benefits “including guaranteed annual salaries, medical and dental insurance, paid child-care assistance, paid pregnancy and parental leave, severance benefits, salary continuation during periods of injury, access to a retirement plan, multiple bonuses and more.”

Nevertheless, the women, the fans and even the men’s team want equality. With the men’s payment ranging into the millions, and the women’s steadily staying in the $100,000s, change needs to be made. The women play the same amount, fight just as hard, win more games and are paid less. But is it all just relative? 

Sexism Triumphs

Statistics aside, comparing the women and the men directly has less persuasive pull. Indeed, the men’s team continuously fails to make it to the World Cup, but their games are still more well attended. Their profit is higher. Finally, there is a greater number of people who tune into their games online.

The controversy, then, is less stimulating than the root issue: the pervasiveness of sexism. Rather than asking questions of payment, ask why the men’s team has more following than the women’s. Ask why men earn a dollar, when women earn three-fourths of that. Wonder why there are “sports” and “women’s sports”. Shouldn’t we discuss why there is a desire for men’s leagues in every sport, but not for women’s leagues. And why do men get better playing facilities, while women are given the leftovers. 

Payment inequality in men’s and women’s soccer is never ending. Will equality ever be reached? Nobody knows. But rather than trying to fix an outcome, perhaps people should be looking further into the source. Promote women; promote their strength, their ability to compete and their desire for freedom. Let’s change the phrase “men are stronger than women” to “men and women are stronger together”. With support, audacity and change, sexism will end and controversies like the women’s pay gap in soccer will be over.

It isn’t about the money anymore, it’s about injustice and the outdated issue of sexism. This is the controversy that we need to put to rest.