Equal Pay Debate Consumes Women's World Cup: 'How Do You Ignore Chanting Fans?'

Photo Credit: Greig Cowie/BPI/Shutterstock
July 8, 2019

Following a record fourth World Cup title win for the U.S. women's soccer team, the U.S. Soccer Federation and FIFA have fallen under greater scrutiny, facing crowds that chanted "equal pay" ー and even booing the FIFA president ー at Sunday's globally-watched match.

"How do you ignore chanting fans? That alone to me is a tipping point," University of Nevada, Las Vegas professor Nancy Lough told Cheddar on Monday. "The argument has always been that the women just don't generate the revenue, they don't sell the tickets, they don't deserve equal compensation for these market-based reasons. And in fact, all of these market-based reasons are now in the favor of the women."

Lough pointed out Nike's report that the U.S. Women's National Team jersey is now the company's highest-selling jersey. TV ratings also show that even though the women's final didn't air during primetime, Sunday's match was still more highly rated than last year's men's World Cup final.

"This was a record-setting performance on the pitch, but it was also a record-setting performance from a financial and revenue-generating standpoint for these women," explained Lough.

At a press conference following the match, star player Megan Rapinoe told reporters that the crowd's reaction reflected that "everyone is ready for this conversation to move to the next step. I think we're done with the 'Are we worth it?' 'Should we have equal pay?' 'Is[sic] the markets the same?' Everyone's done with that. Fans are done with that. Players are done with that."

"I mean, we put on ー as all players, I'm saying every player at this World Cup ー the most incredible show that you could ever ask for," said Rapinoe on Sunday. "A little public shame never hurt anybody. I'm down with the boos."

Several politicians, including presidential candidates Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Sen. Kamala Harris, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, endorsed the team's calls for equal pay on Twitter.

The victory follows a class-action gender discrimination lawsuit filed in March by all 28 players on the women's national team against the U.S. Soccer Federation, the organization that governs and employs both the men and women's national teams.

Five women's national team players also filed a similar gender discrimination lawsuit in 2016.

The most recent complaint alleges that the women's team does "substantially equal work" as the men's team while receiving lower pay and inferior playing and training conditions, among other disparities.

The U.S. Soccer Federation did not respond to a request for comment from Cheddar by the time of publication, but in May, the federation responded to the complaint by arguing that the pay disparity was a result in "differences in the aggregate revenue generated by the different teams and/or any other factor other than sex."

Meanwhile, FIFA, the global football association, has also faced criticism for the pay gap between men's and women's World Cup prizes.

FIFA's prize pool for the women's World Cup is set at $30 million for the 24 teams that participate. Meanwhile, the men's pool ー which includes 32 teams ー is $400 million, a number that will rise to $440 million for the next men's World Cup in Qatar.

The international soccer organization has proposed doubling the prize pool for women's soccer to $60 million, and expanding the pool to 32 participating teams. It is also considering doubling its investment in women's soccer from $500 million $1 billion over the next five years.

When asked for comment, FIFA directed Cheddar to public comments made yesterday by FIFA president's Giovanni Infantino.

"We need to do more to make sure that this gap [between Europe and other continents] doesn't become bigger," said Infantino in a statement. "We want to channel part of this investment into the grassroots of the game all over the world. We need to invest much more where there is no women's football, rather than where the women's game already exists."