When the U.S. Men’s National Team beat Iran in Tuesday’s World Cup game, advancing to the series’ knockout stage, it was a major win for the U.S. women’s soccer team and the equal pay movement, too.
Thanks to a collective bargaining agreement both agreed to earlier this year, the teams will evenly split all the prize money awarded at various stages of their respective World Cups. Under those terms, half of the $13 million the men’s team collected from beating Iran will go to the U.S. Women’s National Team.
The outcome offers a stark reminder of how much less money has been on the table for female athletes. The $6.5 million the women will walk away with from the men’s mid-tournament win is more than double the prize money they earned for winning the Women’s World Cup championship games in 2015 and 2019 ― combined.
That’s because the pool of prize money offered by FIFA, which oversees the tournament, vastly differs between the two versions of the World Cup. The total prize money for the World Cup the men are playing in now is $440 million, whereas it was just $30 million for the Women’s World Cup in 2019. Those totals are before each country’s soccer program takes a cut, which is 10% in the U.S.
That’s been a hard pill for players on the women’s team to swallow. While they’ve won four World Cup championships, making them the most successful team in international women’s soccer, the men have won zero.
FIFA defends that massive imbalance with claims that the prize money reflects the revenue each tournament brings in, but critics say these claims are difficult to substantiate because FIFA won’t share any of its financial records with the public. Australia, which is co-hosting the Women’s World Cup next year, has called on FIFA to even out the prize pools, but it’s unlikely to happen given the expected pushback from countries where the men’s teams still reign supreme.
U.S. Soccer took matters into its own hands ― but only after years of campaigning and a lawsuit against the organization by the women’s team. The two parties settled in February, with U.S. Soccer agreeing to a $24 million payout and to equalize pay.
In its fight for those terms, the women’s team noted that the long-standing revenue gap between the male and female teams had essentially closed. From 2016 to 2018, the enormously successful women’s team contributed $900,000 more in revenue to the organization than the men’s team did during that time.
The women’s team had the backing of some of the country’s most prominent female politicians, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and now-Vice President Kamala Harris.
“Here’s an idea: If you win 13-0 — the most goals for a single game in World Cup history — you should be paid at least equally to the men’s team,” Gillibrand tweeted during the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
Then-President Donald Trump, meanwhile, insinuated that the women’s team should be paid less because it didn’t bring in as much money ― even though the opposite had proven to be true.
Of course, the gender pay gap isn’t just relegated to sports. In 2020, women working year-round in the U.S. earned an average 83 cents for every dollar paid to their average male counterpart. That figure is even lower for Black, Native American, Latina and some subpopulations of Asian women across the U.S.