Megan Rapinoe: 'We have a case no matter what, but this just sort of blows it out of the water. It’s, like, is it even about that anymore? Or is it just about doing the right thing?'
The longer the FIFA Women’s World Cup progressed the more it became apparent that soccer wasn’t the only thing being played out in front of a global audience of millions. Megan Rapinoe (pictured on the previous page) was among those who made sure of that.
The 34-year-old from California has never flinched when it comes to championing the causes she holds close. As the tournament went on, and the USA moved close to a final – and a title – that somehow seemed predestined, co-captain Rapinoe used the spotlight to bring into the open a conversation over pay parity in sport that has too often and for too long been carried out behind closed boardroom doors.
Rapinoe and her teammates came into the World Cup in France at loggerheads with the US Soccer Federation over pay, launching a lawsuit that claims “institutionalized gender discrimination.” When the USA beat the Netherlands 2-0 to win the final at Stade de Lyon, Rapinoe seized her chance.
“Well it’s not good for them is it?” she told reporters when asked how the result may affect the lawsuit. “Obviously, it’s huge… We have a case no matter what, but this just sort of blows it out of the water. It’s, like, is it even about that anymore? Or is it just about doing the right thing?"
Gooooaaaaaalllllll! The US women's team picked up US$250,000 each for winning the World Cup. That's a fourth of what their male counterparts would have earned for their version of the tournament. Only, they never got through the qualification rounds. Photo: Shutterstock
The federation finds itself in a unique position, she said: “Ride this wave of good fortune and get on board and hopefully set things right for the future.”
Crowds all through the month-long World Cup tournament had also warmed to the cause, and by the end of the July 7 final were chanting “Equal pay!” Out on the pitch, the American women did everything that was asked of them, winning all seven of their games. Off the pitch, people were talking about statistics that reveal just how wide the pay gap between the genders in sport remains.
For winning the World Cup the USA team were each set to receive US$250,000. If the USA men’s team ever did the same, each player would receive US$1 million. Only, the American men failed to even qualify for their last World Cup.
Overall women’s teams shared US$30 million across the World Cup, and they left with a promise from FIFA president Gianni Infantino that the figure would increase to US$60 million for the next edition in 2023. Last year, men’s teams shared a kitty of US$400 million for their version of the event.
Attorneys for the USA women say the national team generated US$50.9 million in revenue between 2016 and 2018 while the men brought in US$49.9 million.
Monica Seles Acknowledges The Crowd At 2001 Acura Classic. Photo: Phil Anthony / Shutterstock.com
Detractors point to smaller crowds at events and, traditionally, less sponsorship available when it comes to women’s sport. Those pushing for equal pay say that things are changing. Last year’s US Open women’s tennis final drew more viewers than the men’s; Visa got in behind the women’s World Cup and in December signed a multi-year deal to promote the women’s game in Europe, estimated to be worth around US$12.5 million.
Rapinoe left the World Cup ready to dig in for the fight ahead.
“There’s no secret that we’re sort of the leaders in the women’s game on a lot of different issues – equality, pay equality, gender issues,” she told CNN.
Love All: Tennis leads way
Tennis is the only global sport where women’s pay either equals or even comes close to men’s. The US Open at Flushing Meadow was the ground-breaker, offering equal prize money to both sexes as far back as 1973, while the only woman to make the annual Forbes list of sport’s top 100 earners for 2019 was American star Serena Williams, at 63rd with US$29.2 million from prizes and endorsements for the year.
Serena Williams is the only women to feature in the Forbes list of the 100 best-paid athletes in the world. Photo: Shutterstock
While that makes for an impressive earn by anyone’s standards, the reality check comes when it’s compared to Forbes’ top two male earners – soccer stars Lionel Messi (US$127 million) and Cristiano Ronaldo (US$109 million).
Outside the global game of soccer, massive disparities exist in the likes of basketball, where players in North America’s National Basketball Association (NBA) receive US$7.4 million on average, compared with US$75,000 for their counterparts in the Women’s National Basketball League (WNBA).
In Asia, women have long been at the forefront of sports such as badminton – India’s P V Sindhu was seventh on Forbes’ Asia list last year with US$8.5 million – and volleyball, where China’s Zhu Ting has been earning millions playing with Turkish outfit VakıfBank in the European Championship.
Women’s professional golf has meanwhile been dominated by Asian players over the past two decades but, again, the wage gap is wide. Last season saw Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn top the Ladies Professional Golf Association prize list with almost US$2.8 million; in the men’s Professional Golf Association, Englishman Justin Rose came out on top with just over US$18 million.
How the success of the American women’s soccer team – and their ongoing court case – affect sports globally remains to be seen. But there are positive signs emerging elsewhere.
Australia were another of the teams to shine at the Women’s World Cup, reaching the last 16 and in captain Samantha Kerr, who plies her trade in the US with Chicago Red Stars, having one of the most exciting talents in the game.
Football Federation Australia’s top W-League last season instigated a 33 percent rise in minimum pay for its players, and brought in the “same base hourly rate for same base work” plan so W-League and the men’s A-League players receive the same minimum remuneration based on an hourly rate.
“Over the past two years, FFA, alongside Australia’s professional clubs, players, and other stakeholders, has made significant strides in progressing the remuneration available to Australian female footballers. FFA is committed to continuing to work diligently within this space,” an FFA spokesperson said.
“FFA is currently bidding to host the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. By 2027 it is our goal to reach fifty-fifty in registered players, and make football the clear sport of choice for women and girls both on and off the field. Hosting the tournament on home soil would help FFA to reach that target, and open commercial doors, inviting greater investment in the women’s game.”