By Gregory Bryce
Let it be said, I am not someone who often gets involved in gender and/or political debates as I am not the sort of person who likes to get involved in ‘touchy’ scenarios that, more often than not, implode drastically. However, a recent conversation I had about the issue of equal pay in sports, and why the United States Women’s National team (USWNT) had their case for ‘equal pay’ dismissed by the courts led me into writing this piece.
As someone who is familiar with both the men’s and the women’s sport, and who has been following the development of this situation, I feel that I can shine a light on the issue that the mainstream media might have misrepresented in the last few months.
It is undeniable that there is a stark difference in pay between male and female players. So yes, there is indeed such a concept as a ‘pay gap’ in football.
But is this pay gap a result of discrimination against the female gender?
Despite what some may report, it is not so.
I will not be ignorant to dismiss any claims of discrimination as there are instances where it has been blatantly perpetuated by those in positions of power.
In 2004, former FIFA president Sepp Blatter said that if women’s soccer wanted to gain more attention, they should wear tighter shorts.
“Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball. They could, for example, have tighter shorts,” Blatter said.
This is just one example where sexism was blatantly on show in the sport.
But the women being paid less than the men is not rooted in the gender discrimination, but rather, economics.
Football, after all is said and done, is an entertainment business. The best teams are able to thrive because of their ability to recruit the best and most marketable players. Hence, it is the ‘market value’ – and not the gender – of a player that determines the money they are paid.
So the reason why the women are paid less, is the same reason why Cristiano Ronaldo makes an estimated $500,000 a week while Rodrigo Bentancur earns an estimated $75,000 a week despite both players playing for the same team.
Look at this example for instance: The 2019 Women’s World Cup generated $131 million. In comparison, the 2018 Men’s World Cup generated $5.4 billion (over 40 times more than the Women’s World Cup generated).
So was this the reason the USWNT had their case dismissed in court?
The answer is no.
The reason that the USWNT lost the case in their fight for ‘equal pay’ was because of their contract negotiations, which was not pointed out in the mainstream media.
The USWNT brought the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) to court because they said that they were not being paid at an equal rate as the men’s team, despite the women accomplishing much more.
They were right, to a certain extent, but what was left unsaid was the fact that the women’s team had refused an offer to be paid the same as the men’s team back in 2015.
That doesn’t make sense, does it? If there were offered equal pay as the men’s team, why would they refuse it?
To explain, the US men’s team is paid based on a ‘play-to-pay’ contract. This means that only the players who actually play in a match are paid. So for the US men’s team, it doesn’t matter if they travel and train with the team, if they do not play in a match, that player will not be paid.
So, to accommodate this, the players are given a high match bonus.
More risks, more rewards.
The women’s team decided it did not want this. Instead, the team negotiated for a ‘guaranteed-pay’ contract. So the women’s team’s contract states that they will be given a base salary, along with benefits such as injury insurance, dental insurance, and maternity protection among other benefits (which the men’s team does not have). To accommodate these benefits, the women’s contract saw them receiving a lower match bonus in exchange for guaranteed pay.
So, less risks, less rewards.
And this was the driving force for the USWNT case for equal pay.
The USWNT lawsuit argued for the same match bonuses as the men’s team, but they also wanted to keep their guaranteed pay contract (which the men’s team does not have) and they also wanted to keep their fringe benefits (which the men’s team does not have). They wanted all the rewards, but none of the risks that the men’s team faced.
It was for these reasons that the women’s team’s case was dismissed by the court, as they were not being paid less due to gender discrimination, but rather due to their own contract which they had negotiated and agreed upon.
Gregory Bryce is a freelance sports journalist.
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