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A Milestone for Women’s Soccer: USWNT Collective Bargaining Agreement Ensures Equal Pay

For the first time in soccer history, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (“USWNT”) players will receive equal pay to the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team (“USMNT”) players, no matter the outcome of the game. In the 2023 World Cup, the women’s team earned $3.3 million for their tough loss to Sweden in the Round of 16, while the men’s team brought home $13 million when they survived to the Round of 16. Now, despite the devastating missed penalty kicks that led to the early exit, the USWNT will still receive the same pay as their male counterparts, at around $300,000 per player.


This historic feat is due to the efforts of the USWNT over the past several years that culminated when President Biden signed into effect the bipartisan S.2333 Equal Pay for Team USA Law. This bill ensures that “all athletes representing the U.S. in amateur athletics will receive equal compensation, benefits . . . and payment for medical care, travel, and other expenses.” Therefore, by signing this bill earlier this year, President Biden has guaranteed that all future Team USA athletes, including World Cup competitors, will receive equal pay and benefits, regardless of gender. Further, “with President Biden’s signature, [the United States is] ensuring that when [athletes] wear the Team USA logo, [they] will truly be equal.” This is a milestone for women's sports, as the fight for women’s equality in this industry has been the USWNT’s focus for over seven years.


In just the past seven years, the USWNT won two World Cup Championships, dominated countless tournaments, and continued to be a top contender in the Summer Olympics. In comparison, the last time the USMNT placed in the World Cup was in 1930 (third place). Furthermore, the men have not won an Olympic medal in more than a century.


Yet, individual salaries tell the opposite story. Popular stars like Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan receive just over $7 million in annual salary, while their male counterparts on the men’s team, such as Christian Pulisic, are paid ten times that amount, at over $70 million.


Credit: Lorie Shaull


One reason for the continued gap in pay is that the United States is the only established democracy in the world that has failed to ratify CEDAW (Convention Eliminating Discrimination Against Women). The United Nations implemented this as one of its nine core treaties in 1979, and according to Article 10(a), the treaty, when ratified by members, advocates for the “same conditions for career and vocational guidance” among other things, such as equal access to education, athletics, and opportunities. Teams that boast equal pay schemes, including both finalists for this year’s World Cup, Spain and England, have ratified this treaty. By failing to ratify this treaty, the United States proves itself exempt from abiding by these internationally accepted human rights laws. Further, the United States has communicated on a global scale that gender issues of equality regarding work and education are not a top priority.


Due to the lack of support from their nation, the USWNT took matters into their own hands and filed a gender-discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation (“USSF”) in 2019 to combat this pay gap. A federal judge in 2020 dismissed the players’ equal pay petition, and the USWNT then appealed, resulting in a settlement in 2022 to receive $24 million annually to be split amongst the players. Additionally, they received a promise by the USSF to equalize pay between the men’s and women’s national teams.


In an effort to equalize pay, the USSF agreed to separate collective bargaining agreements (“CBA”) for the USWNT and USMNT that would guarantee equal pay for both organizations. It is important to note that these are separate agreements for each organization. Rather than accepting a universal agreement for both teams, the USWNT, represented by the United States Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association (“WNTPA”), prioritized their need for guaranteed pay over the pay-for-play compensation that the USMNT receives. Thus, this bargaining process reveals a commonality across all athlete representation transactions, wherein the negotiations must always reflect the priorities of the client. Since the USMNT does not receive minimum guaranteed salaries, the USWNT felt it best to advocate for their priorities of guaranteed, equal pay instead. Therefore, while both teams have different contracts with the USSF, each achieves their legal and business interests according to their priorities. Ultimately, even on the national stage, there are differences in the contracts between each organization, because each team has different priorities as they seek their compensation.


Beyond the collective bargaining agreements, the USSF also made a promise that effectively accepts responsibility for resolving divisions in pay, and commits itself to a future of advocacy. So while it is true that the USSF is now required by law to divide the World Cup earnings evenly, those efforts are not enough to eliminate the pay gap stemming from FIFA. The USSF must also remain committed to advocating for the USWNT and pressure FIFA “to eliminate the gap in prize money.” Admittingly, FIFA has shown some progress towards this goal, but President Gianni Infantino has failed to provide actionable steps that can achieve equal payments in the 2026 Men’s and 2027 Women’s World Cups. The USSF must remain committed to its goal in order to achieve these necessary results in 2026 and 2027.


Credit: Jamie Smed


Ultimately, this World Cup marks a new age for U.S. sports. Through its collective bargaining efforts, the USWNT has earned the “legitimacy of professional women's sports altogether.” While some argue that the women should have only focused on winning, these arguments fail to consider the lasting effects from the USWNT’s efforts and the continued need for their advocacy. It is true that the USWNT had an uncharacteristically early exit, but their hard work, on and off the field, ensured proper compensation for their efforts. Both teams left the tournament in the same round, but the USMNT was awarded nearly $10 million more for the same result. Therefore, the job is not done. The USSF must continue to pressure FIFA to equalize World Cup payments and all national soccer federations should work towards achieving this goal in 2026 and 2027. The USWNT made historic progress with this World Cup and we look to FIFA to continue that progress with the next World Cup.


*The views expressed in this article do not represent the views of Santa Clara University.

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