After historic equal pay settlement, USWNT turns attention to FIFA

Megan Rapinoe, celebrating with USWNT teammates, has been a leading voice in the fight for equal pay. (David Berding/Getty Images)

When the U.S. Soccer Federation and U.S. women’s national team players announced a historic settlement on Tuesday after a six-year fight over equal pay, they briefly celebrated before zeroing in on the next obstacle: FIFA’s unequal prize bonuses at the men’s and women’s World Cups.

The settlement laid out U.S. Soccer’s commitment to equal pay rates in tournaments, including the FIFA World Cup. That is not U.S. Soccer’s money to give away, but with the resolution in writing, the Federation affirmed it will support USWNT players in bringing their concerns to FIFA.

Both sides realize the profound challenge of taking on the global soccer behemoth, but there’s also a lot of power in being the No. 1-ranked women’s soccer team on the planet.

“I think with the players and the Federation in a place where we’re working together, it’s going to be pretty formidable,” forward Megan Rapinoe said of their case to FIFA. “I think it’s going to take aggressive and persistent and constant action on our part.”

To Rapinoe, that pressure involves persuading World Cup sponsors to invest more, or forming a federation coalition to confront FIFA.

“Clearly, they’re not all that motivated on their own to do anything, so you have to be loud and constant and aggressive in this sort of pursuit of equality,” she said. “They’re certainly in a place to do it, and it’s just a matter of them either feeling that the pressure is too much or — I don’t anticipate this, but — a sudden change of heart and mind.”

The equal pay settlement is entirely contingent on the ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement, which U.S. Soccer president Cindy Parlow Cone expects the Federation and the USWNT Players Association to finalize by March 31. At that point, they hope to have a detailed plan in place for confronting FIFA.

“It’s a little thought exercise that we have to do to make sure that the men’s and the women’s teams are being paid equally until FIFA equalizes it themselves,” said defender Becky Sauerbrunn. “We have amazing lawyers that are thinking through that and have come up with proposals that’ll be presented to the Federation.”

The players also have the U.S. men’s team on their side.

“It’s a great sign that we will come to a solution,” Sauerbrunn said.

The players expressed gratitude for Cone, the former USWNT World Cup champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist who has spearheaded U.S. Soccer’s negotiations since succeeding Carlos Cordeiro as president in 2020 after his ignominious resignation.

“On a personal level, with being a former player, this is something I have tried to resolve since the day I became president,” Cone said. “It took me a lot longer than I was expecting it to take, but we got here today and I couldn’t be more excited.”

In her opening statements on Tuesday, Cone said that she’ll “be the first to admit” the Federation’s mistakes in the past and she understands the players’ frustrations regarding equal pay.

“I know there is still a lot of work to do in continuing to build the relationship with U.S. Soccer and I am fully committed to doing so,” she said.

The Federation and USWNTPA have held 35 negotiated sessions toward a new CBA, with Sam Mewis telling reporters Tuesday that Crystal Dunn was in talks at that very moment.

Once that agreement is finalized, U.S. Soccer and the players will turn their attention to FIFA as a unified front, something that was hard to imagine just a few months ago when tensions were running high. Even two weeks ago, nine USWNT stars criticized U.S. Soccer for “[standing] by as abuse continued to occur unchecked” in a letter addressed to Cone and Cordeiro following new accusations made against former Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames.

“I think there’s a multi-pronged pressure approach we can put on FIFA, ultimately to do what is the right thing, but also what is the best business practice,” Rapinoe said.

They’ll have plenty of evidence to show for women’s soccer being good business. While the USWNT continues to draw sold-out crowds, the Women’s Champions League match between Barcelona and Real Madrid scheduled at Camp Nou in March sold all 85,000 tickets in three days and Canada’s win in the gold-medal match last summer was the most-watched event of the Tokyo Olympics.

“At this point, we’re not wondering if the women’s game can make money. We’re not wondering if there’s star power. We’re not questioning the equality on the field,” Rapinoe said. “I think, at this point, it’s just a willful discrimination and a willful negligence.”

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.