Sensing it would be a topic of discussion in last month’s Democratic presidential debates, a lobbyist for U.S. Soccer reached out to at least five candidates to argue the organization’s case that the women’s national team is fairly compensated, Politico reported Friday.
Players on the women’s team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit in March accusing U.S. Soccer of paying them lower salaries and subjecting them to more dangerous playing conditions than the men’s team. The lawsuit alleges that U.S. Soccer has “utterly failed to promote gender equality” and assert U.S. Soccer officials have “gone so far as to claim that ‘market realities are such that the women do not deserve to be paid equally to the men.’ ”
The women’s national team won its fourth World Cup title in July, increasing the volume of the calls for equal pay.
In letters sent in March and April, U.S. Soccer President Carlos Cordeiro was urged to fix the wage gap between the teams. The letters were signed by U.S. senators including Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
U.S. Soccer chief communications officer Neil Buethe wrote in an email to The Washington Post that the correspondence between the lobbyist and members of Congress was in response to those letters. The timing of that response, which came several months after the letters were initially sent, was part of an effort to avoid any distractions during the USWNT’s World Cup run, Buethe said.
“Instead of debating the facts about how we compensate and invest in our Women’s National Team soccer in the media in the lead-up to the World Cup, we focused on providing the team with everything they needed to win in France,” Buethe wrote. “Due to the fact that we did not respond publicly, there was a lack of information available that accurately represents how we support our Women’s National Team and women’s soccer overall, and eventually that [led] to questions and requests to provide additional information from several Members of Congress.
“In the past week, we have taken steps to simply provide more comprehensive insight that showcases the support and investment the U.S. Soccer Federation has made for many years. We are 100 percent supportive of the Women’s National Team and have done more than any organization in the country, and perhaps the world, to invest in and build our youth and senior women’s teams. We want people to know that we are going to continue to push forward and do more as a leader in women’s football cross the globe.”
Mediation between U.S. Soccer and the women’s national team will take place soon, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.
A letter written by Cordeiro on July 29 was posted on ussoccer.com and stated that “it should be a basic principle everywhere in our country — equal work deserves equal pay.” However, he highlighted that because the men’s and women’s teams negotiated separate collective bargaining agreements, “they have different pay structures, not because of gender, but because each team chose to negotiate a different compensation package with U.S. Soccer.”
“As you’ll see — separate and apart from any prize money awarded by FIFA — U.S. Soccer has, over the past decade, paid our Women’s National Team more than our Men’s National Team in salaries and game bonuses, and we continue to make unprecedented investments in our women’s program,” Cordeiro added.
In a fact sheet published with Cordeiro’s letter, U.S. Soccer stated that from 2010 to 2018, it paid women’s national team players $34.1 million in salaries and game bonuses compared with the $26.4 million it paid the men. It also stated that the women’s contracts are guaranteed, whereas the men’s contracts are not.
“Given the high profile nature of this issue, and the fact that it could come up during the debate, the U.S. Soccer Federation wants to be sure all of the candidates have access to all available information,” Ray Bucheger, a lobbyist hired by U.S. Soccer, told one of the campaigns in a July email obtained by Politico.
Not every Democratic candidate in the field heard from U.S. Soccer before the debates.
“If they had, Marianne Williamson would have told U.S. Soccer to pay the women more than the men, since it is the women that are world champions,” Patricia Ewing, a spokeswoman for Williamson, wrote in an email to Politico.
The topic of equal pay between the women’s and men’s teams was not discussed during the July debates, but this election cycle’s Democratic candidates have recently and in years past expressed support for both teams making the same amount.
“Whoever does their lobbying and PR should be fired, and the money should go to the players,” an adviser for one of the campaigns contacted by Bucheger told Politico. He said Bucheger’s efforts did not affect his candidate’s debate preparations.