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U.S. Soccer says USWNT don’t deserve equal pay because they’re less skilled than men

The U.S. Soccer Federation has resorted to belittling its own women’s national team in court.

2020 SheBelieves Cup: United States Press Conference and Training Session
The U.S. Women National Team celebrates after a goal in the second half of the 2020 SheBelieves Cup match Sunday between the U.S. and Spain.
Photo by Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images

The U.S. Soccer Federation is intensifying its efforts to defeat its own women’s national team in court, arguing the reigning World Cup champions are less skilled and work less demanding jobs than their male peers, and as a result, are not being discriminated against based on their gender.

In a new court filing, U.S. Soccer says women should be paid less because it requires a “higher level of skill” to play with men, per BuzzFeed News. The U.S. Women’s National Team sued U.S. Soccer last March for pay discrimination, asking for roughly $67 million in back pay for what they say is a violation of the Equal Pay Act. All 28 members of the club are included in the class-action lawsuit.

A federal judge allowed the suit to move forward late last year, setting up a protracted showdown between the USWNT and its own federation. The women say U.S. Soccer unfairly provides the men’s team with much larger performance bonuses, despite their relative lack of on-field success. The USWNT have won two straight World Cups — and four in total —while the men haven’t even qualified for the tournament since 2014, when they lost to Belgium in the Round of 16.

Though FIFA doles out significantly more prize money for the men’s World Cup, the USWNT argue that doesn’t permit U.S. Soccer to pay them less. According to the lawsuit, if both teams won 20 “friendly” matches in a year, the women would earn a maximum of $99,000 and the men would earn an average of $263,320.

The USSF’s new court documents, which were filed last month, say the “job of a [men’s national team player] carries more responsibility within U.S. Soccer than the job of a [women’s national team] player.” In an attempt to argue the outrageous point, U.S. Soccer points out the hostile fans the men’s team often faces on their own turf, as many of the club’s opponents attract large road followings. U.S. Soccer also cites biological differences between men and women, saying the science is “indisputable.”

Unsurprisingly, the U.S. women aren’t backing down. When an attorney for the USSF asked Carli Lloyd whether she thinks her team would be competitive against their male counterparts, she facetiously suggested the two sides “fight it out to see who wins.”

Following the USWNT’s dominant showing at last summer’s World Cup, many celebrities and Democratic politicians rallied around their equal pay cause. At the team’s championship parade last July, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo even signed a new state pay equity law. Perhaps most tellingly, fans chanted “equal pay” at FIFA president Gianni Infantino as he took the field to congratulate the USWNT following their World Cup Final victory over the Netherlands.

Despite the vast public support for the USWNT, U.S. Soccer isn’t backing down. Last weekend, USSF president Carlos Cordeiro released an open letter about the status of the fraught negotiations. In it, he claims it is not “reasonable or fiscally sound” for the body to close the $67 million prize money pay gap between the men and women.

Megan Rapinoe, who seldom hesitates to speak her mind, blasted the timing of the letter, which was released one day before the USWNT played their second game of the SheBelieves tournament. In an incredible example of symbolism, the contest was played on International Women’s Day. (The USWNT won the game, by the way.)

“We’re trying to prepare for the Olympics and win this tournament, and be as good as we can be,” Rapinoe said, via CNN. “Not the nicest move I would say. I’m not sure it really achieved what it was intended to. I don’t know.”