In 1973, women’s tennis superstar Billie Jean King successfully defeated Bobby Riggs during what is now known as the Battle of the Sexes. The winner-takes-all game was a key point in the history of professional tennis as it helped forward the argument that women were capable athletes, therefore they should receive equal pay for doing the same work their male counterparts do. Today, male and female tennis players receive equal prize money at the four Grand Slam tournaments—a noteworthy feat considering how the system worked during King’s time.
However, the success seen in the tennis scene has yet to be successfully replicated for other professional sports. King remains the foremost advocate of equal pay for equal play, though new voices now join her at the forefront of the movement: the US Soccer Women’s National Team (USWNT).
Winning The 2019 World Cup
The USWNT emerged victorious at the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup held in France after defeating the Netherlands in the finals, 2-0. They opened their World Cup campaign with a strong win against Thailand. The team notched a total of 13 goals, unknowingly breaking the following World Cup records in the process:
- Most goals scored by a team in a match
- Largest margin of victory in a match
- Most individual goal scorers in a Women’s World Cup match (Alex Morgan, Rose Lavelle, Linsey Horan, Sam Mewis, Megan Rapinoe, Mallory Pugh, and Carli Lloyd)
The American women now have a total of four World Cups (1991, 1999, 2015, 2019) to their name, which is a great complement to their four Olympic golds (1996, 2004, 2008, 2012).
The Issue Of Pay Disparity
In recognition of their accomplishments at the World Cup, the USWNT will receive prize money from both FIFA and their national federation. However, a closer analysis reveals that the financial compensation is far less when compared to what the Men’s World Cup winner and US Men’s Team would have received at the same event.
At the 2018 Men’s World Cup, FIFA had allotted $400 million for prize money to be given to the participating federations. France, which won the tournament, received $38 million. In comparison, only $30 million was set aside for the 2019 Women’s World Cup. Four million dollars will go to the champions, the USWNT—yet this is only 10.5% of the winnings earned by France in the previous year. FIFA President Gianni Infantino expressed a desire to include more teams and to possibly double the prize money for future Women’s World Cups. However, that would do little to resolve the glaring issue of unequal treatment between the women’s and men’s team.
The US Soccer Federation is also guilty of underpaying the USWNT. The women will only be receiving $200,000 dollars each from their home federation ($37,500 for making the World Cup roster, $15,000 for winning their qualification games, $37,500 for being a World Cup finalist, and $110,000 for winning the World Cup). Had their male counterparts won in 2018, each player on the men’s team would have received around $1.1 million each.
Pushing For Progress
Twenty-eight members of the USWNT filed a lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation for gender discrimination and unequal pay earlier this year. However, both parties had to put off discussions until after the World Cup. The issue on pay disparity was previously raised in 2016 when five players submitted a case at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Rapinoe, Morgan, Sauerbrunn, and then-goalkeeper Hope Solo.
Players in other countries are also pushing for equal pay. In Norway, striker Ada Hegerberg has refused to join the national team unless both the women’s and men’s team can play under guaranteed equal conditions. Professional Footballers Australia has been writing to FIFA since 2018 to improve their measures for addressing pay disparity, otherwise players would have to wait until 2039 to achieve equal pay for the Women’s and Men’s World Cups. Even the 2019 World Cup host France is in a similar situation to the USWNT. The French women’s team would have received 40,000 euros each if they won the tournament while the men’s team received 370,000 euros each after winning last year’s World Cup.
Forty-five years ago, Billie Jean King helped make the case for the professional tennis scene to recognize that female tennis players do deserve equal pay. After the USWNT’s epic win at this year’s World Cup, perhaps the much-needed change for women’s football could finally be in sight.