By Carlo Versano
The woman who helped galvanize the push for gender equality in professional soccer is cheering on her former teammates from the sidelines as they take up the fight with a federal discrimination lawsuit.
Hope Solo, the former goalkeeper for the U.S. Women's Soccer team, told Cheddar in an interview Tuesday that the lawsuit filed last week by 28 members of the three-time champion women's team has "been a long time in the making."
Solo filed her own discrimination suit against her former employer last year, arguing that the Federation was in breach of the Equal Pay Act. In 2016, Solo was one of five players who filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over wage discrimination claims. Her contract with the U.S. team was terminated that same year for "misconduct," though she told Cheddar she believes it was retribution for her vocal support of wage equity.
"We had so much support across the board," Solo said of the EEOC suit. But it sat in the courts for two years gathering dust, she said, and people's attention moved on.
The suit by the current members of the U.S. women's team significantly ups the stakes in a long-running feud with their governing body and comes just months before they defend their title as World Cup champions.
Despite being among the most famous and successful teams in all of women's sports, the players allege that they are not treated as equals of the men's team, which plays ー and wins ー fewer games, gets paid more, and receives better perks like first-class air travel.
Opponents have argued that the men's team takes in more revenue from ticket sales, though Solo has said that's misleading because most women's games aren't played in stadiums that are fully open. Plus, she said, the women's team is far more successful in terms of marketing and branding given its winning record.
The men's and women's team both have separate collective bargaining agreements, which include different pay structures. For example, the men get bigger bonuses but only get paid when they make the team, whereas the women get guaranteed salaries and smaller game bonuses. Bonuses for making the World Cup are determined by FIFA, the global governing body for the sport. The current women's CBA doesn't expire until 2021, making a pre-World Cup strike impossible.
Solo said she and others have long pressed for pay matching their male counterparts as part of their CBA negotiations, but were always told it was a "non-starter."
"Acting nicely got us nowhere," she said.
While the argument for equal pay in sports has long simmered, the U.S. women's team is taking advantage of two converging factors with the timing of their lawsuit: public sentiment and another potential championship. Public opinion has shifted over the past two years to become more supportive of gender equity, Solo said. Also, the women's team will once again become media sensations this summer when they play in France for their fourth World Cup trophy. The men's team didn't even qualify for last year's Cup.
"I'm not alone anymore," Solo said. "And it feels great."
"You're going to hear a lot about this in the coming months."
For full interview click here.