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USA’s players including forward Megan Rapinoe (centre) celebrate with the trophy after the France 2019 Women’s World Cup final. Photo: AFP

US Soccer agrees equal pay deal for women’s and men’s teams

  • American national governing body becomes the first in football to promise both teams matching money
  • ‘I feel a lot of pride for the girls who are going to see this growing up, and recognise their value rather than having to fight for it,’ US forward Margaret Purce says

The US Soccer Federation has reached milestone agreements to pay its men’s and women’s teams equally, making the American national governing body the first in the sport to promise both genders matching money.

The federation announced separate collective bargaining agreements through December 2028 with the unions for both national teams on Wednesday, ending years of often acrimonious negotiations.

The men have been playing under the terms of a CBA that expired in December 2018. The women’s CBA expired at the end of March but talks continued after the federation and the players agreed to settle a gender discrimination lawsuit brought by some of the players in 2019. The settlement was contingent on the federation reaching labour contracts that pay and bonuses equal between the two teams.

“I feel a lot of pride for the girls who are going to see this growing up, and recognise their value rather than having to fight for it. However, my dad always told me that you don’t get rewarded for doing what you’re supposed to do – and paying men and women equally is what you’re supposed to do,” US forward Margaret Purce said.

“So I’m not giving out any gold stars, but I’m grateful for this accomplishment and for all the people who came together to make it so.”

Perhaps the biggest sticking point was World Cup prize money, which is based on how far a team advances in the tournament. While the US women have been successful on the international stage with back-to-back World Cup titles, differences in Fifa prize money meant they took home far less than the men’s winners.

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The unions agreed to pool Fifa’s payments for the men’s World Cup later this year and next year’s Women’s World Cup, as well as for the 2026 and 2027 tournaments.

Each player will get matching game appearance fees in what the USSF said makes it the first federation to pool Fifa prize money in this manner.

“We saw it as an opportunity, an opportunity to be leaders in this front and join in with the women’s side and US Soccer. So we’re just excited that this is how we were able to get the deal done,” said Walker Zimmerman, a defender who is part of the US National Team Players Association leadership group.

The federation previously based bonuses on payments from Fifa, which earmarked US$400 million for the 2018 men’s tournament, including US$38 million for champions France, and US$30 million for the 2019 women’s tournament, including US$4 million for champions the United States.

Fifa has increased the total to US$440 million for the 2022 men’s World Cup, and its president, Gianni Infantino, has proposed that Fifa double the women’s prize money to US$60 million for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, in which Fifa has increased the teams to 32.

US players pose ahead of the 2019 Women’s World Cup quarter-final against France. Photo: AFP

For the current World Cup cycles, the USSF will pool the Fifa funds, taking 10 per cent off the top and then splitting the rest equally among 46 players – 23 players for the squad of each team. For the 2026-27 cycle, the USSF cut increases to 20 per cent before the split.

After missing the 2018 World Cup, the men qualified for this year’s tournament in Qatar starting in November. The women’s team will seek to qualify this year for the 2023 World Cup, co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.

For lesser tournaments, such as those run by the governing body of North America, players will earn identical game bonuses. And for exhibition games, players will receive matching appearance fees and performance payments based on the match result and the opponents’ ranking. Players who do not play will earn a fee that is the equivalent of taking part in a national team training camp.

The women gave up guaranteed base salaries which had been part of their CBA since 2005. Some players had been guaranteed annual salaries of US$100,000.

“I think we’ve outgrown some of the conditions that may look like we have lost something, but now our [professional] league is actually strong enough where now we don’t need as many guaranteed contracts, you know, we can be on more of a pay-to-play model,” Purce said.

Megan Rapinoe (centre) and other members of the 2019 World Cup-winning US women’s team take part in a ticker-tape parade in New York. Photo: AFP

Child care, covered for women for more than 25 years, will be extended to men during national team training camps and matches.

The women and men also will receive a portion of commercial revenue from tickets for matches controlled by the USSF, with bonuses for sell-outs, and each team will get a portion of broadcast, partner and sponsor revenue.

Players will get a 401(k) plan and the USSF will match up to 5 per cent of a player’s compensation, subject to IRS limits. That money will be deducted from the shares of commercial revenue.

“There were moments when I thought it was all going to fall apart and then it came back together and it’s a real credit to all the different groups coming together, negotiating at one table,” said federation President Cindy Parlow Cone, a former national team player who became head of the governing body in 2020.

“I think that’s where the turning point really happened. Before, trying to negotiate a CBA with the women and then turn around and negotiate CBA terms with the men and vice versa, was really challenging. I think the real turning point was when we finally were all in the same room sitting at the same table, working together and collaborating to reach this goal.”

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Women ended six years of litigation over equal pay in February in a deal calling for the USSF to pay US$24 million, a deal contingent on reaching new collective bargaining agreements.

As part of the settlement, players will split US$22 million, about one-third of what they had sought in damages. The USSF also agreed to establish a fund with US$2 million to benefit the players in their post-football careers and charitable efforts aimed at growing the sport for women.

Mark Levinstein, counsel for the men’s union, said the agreement ended “more than 20 years of federation discrimination against the USWNT players”.

“Together with the USWNTPA, the USMNT players achieved what everyone said was impossible – an agreement that provides fair compensation to the USMNT players and equal pay and equal working conditions to the USWNT players,” he said. “The new federation leadership should get tremendous credit for working with the players to achieve these agreements.”