For The Future of Women’s Soccer

If your goal is to promote soccer in the United States, and presumably set an example, then why wouldn’t you treat your senior national teams the same?

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It’s been an eventful week in the fight for equal pay.

With just three months left until the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, 28 members of the U.S. Women’s National Team filed a lawsuit on Friday against the U.S. Soccer Federation, alleging “institutionalized gender discrimination.” They argue this isn’t just because of vastly inequal pay, but also issues with travel and accommodations, medical treatment, coaching, and venues.

Every time equal pay comes up, there is a defensive reaction from many people who disagree with the lawsuit’s premise. They argue that the U.S. women should not be paid the same as the men because they do not bring in the same revenue. Sports is a business, and the women should pull their own weight if they want equal pay.

There are many, many flaws with that argument. It is not true that the men always bring in more revenue than the women. The men have received more investment than the women, giving them a better platform to succeed. There is historic discrimination against women in soccer, and in sports more generally, which denies us many of the benefits given to our male counterparts.

Bringing all of these points together is a critical point that often goes unnoticed.

The U.S. Soccer Federation is not a for-profit business. It is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, whose mission statement is to “make soccer, in all its forms, a preeminent sport in the United States and to continue the development of soccer at all recreational and competitive levels.” Quite simply, they are aiming to promote and grow soccer in the United States.

If your goal is to promote soccer in the United States, and presumably set an example, then why wouldn’t you treat your senior national teams the same? Shouldn’t your goal be to encourage all people, regardless of race, sex, or any other category, to join the sport and be treated with equal importance? Children learn from the example set on the national and international stage. The current model reinforces the message to all children that at the highest level of their sport, men are still worth more than women.

Serena Williams summarized this well.

“You know, we have had some incredible pioneers in our sport that stood up in the ’70s and said, ‘We’re going to get paid what the men get paid,’” Williams said. “They stood up way back then. I think, at some point, in every sport, you have to have those pioneers, and maybe it’s the time for soccer. I’m playing because someone else stood up, and so what they are doing right now is hopefully for the future of women’s soccer.”

Somewhere out there, the next Alex Morgan or Abby Wambach is watching. And she’s counting on this team to fight for her. She’s counting on her country’s federation to acknowledge her worth, so that she can be successful in her sport. But every day, U.S. Soccer reinforces the message that she is less-than simply because of her gender.

It’s not just American women and girls who are hopeful about this lawsuit. It’s the women playing around the world today, often in much less equitable situations, who are also watching. Some will argue that the U.S. women should be happy with what they have, because its a lot worse in other countries. American players do recognize that they have it better, and that’s part of the foundation of this lawsuit.

“This team, we’re kind of a visible team,” Becky Sauerbrunn said in an interview at the end of the SheBelieves Cup. “So, I think it’s important that we kind of take that on, and we show that we are empowered women and that we will fight for things we believe in, like pay equity. It’s a heavy responsibility, but it’s one we gladly take on.”

The U.S. Soccer Federation works under the goal of promoting soccer in the United States. Three World Cup titles will certainly do that, but even if the U.S. women didn’t have so much on-the-field success, an argument against equal pay still rings hollow. It relies on a ‘sports business’ mentality which ignores the fact that the U.S. Soccer Federation is not a traditional ‘sports business.’ It is a non-profit, and thus, should not approach soccer with the goal of making money. In fact, it should be investing all the money it brings in. The same should be said for FIFA, who currently sits on an estimated 2.7 billion USD.

If the goal of these two organizations is to grow the sport, they have an obligation to invest in areas that have traditionally been ignored and neglected. That includes, but is not limited to, women.

We should not feel guilty holding the U.S. Soccer Federation accountable to these standards. They might be idealistic, but this is our federation, designed to serve the growing soccer community in the United States. We won’t win every battle, but we need to show that we are willing to fight. Because there is too much at stake here. It is not simply the treatment of the women currently playing for the United States. With every victory, the U.S. opens doors for women and girls in the United States and around the world. Current players and future players alike benefit from their wins.

I think its worth putting up a fight.

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