Women in soccer kicking goals for equality

Never has the spotlight on unequal pay in professional sport shone quite so brightly as in the past month.

The FIFA Women’s World Cup in France saw the reigning world champions, team USA, take out a back-to-back world title – the culmination of a commanding campaign that included a devastating 13-0 win over Thailand.

But of course, before they had even made it to France the team had already made headlines.

Three months before the beginning of the World Cup, 28 members of the side escalated their long-running pay dispute with the United States Soccer Federation by filing a gender discrimination lawsuit.

The men’s team were paid performance bonuses totalling $5.375 million after losing in round 16 at the 2014 World Cup, while the women’s team were paid $1.725 million for winning in 2015.

The women’s argument was simple: we play more games than the men, we win more games than the men. Why are we not paid the same as the men?

Historically, the Federation’s argument has been that since the male players bring in more revenue than the female players, their pay is indexed accordingly.

However, this has recently been debunked, with a Wall Street Journal investigation finding that US women’s soccer matches sold more tickets and brought in more money than the men’s between 2016 and 2018.

Demand and excitement for the women’s game is only growing. Prior to the start of the World Cup, FIFA estimated that 1 billion viewers would watch broadcasts of the matches.

Three weeks into the tournament and television stations around the world were reporting back record-breaking viewership figures – and not just for the US team.

But the prize money on offer from FIFA for the Women’s tournament totalled only $30 million, paling in comparison to the $400 million available in the 2018 Men’s tournament. That means the women stood to win just 7.5% of what was on offer to their male counterparts.

Our own Matildas – representing a country with a gender pay gap of 14.1% - used their platform in the lead-up to the World Cup to press FIFA to double the prize pool and push the overall money on offer to $82 million.

But it was the US team’s monumental win that catapulted their struggle – and the struggle for equal pay for all women’s soccer - to the world stage.

As FIFA President Gianni Infantino walked out on into the stadium in Lyon for the postmatch formalities, the crowd booed him and united in chants of “Equal pay! Equal pay!”.

In interviews after the match, co-captain Megan Rapinhoe said that to her the moment represented a historical turning point, and that the win itself was bigger than just her team.

“We as players, every player at this World Cup, put on the most incredible show that you could ever ask for.

“We cannot do anything more to impress more, to be better ambassadors, to take on more, to play better or do anything.

“It’s time to take it forward to the next step.”

Providing pay equality is the right thing to do – for our female professional athletes and workforce as a whole.