Players for the U.S. Women's National Team hope that public opinion can help them in their fight for equal pay. The team will wear shirts that read "#EqualPlayEqualPay" in media availabilities prior to their friendly against South Africa on Saturday and are planning on adding temporary tattoos to wear during their pre-Olympics friendlies.
The players haven't been able to get the concessions they want from U.S. Soccer regarding pay, despite having taken legal action, and are now set on publicly expressing their stance while representing the team in the run up to the Olympics. That would be a new step for the players, who have generally limited their campaigning to their personal time, not while at team events or on the field.
The team's fight for equality dates back to the year prior to the 2015 Women's World Cup, when they had issue with the tournament being played on artificial turf, something they claimed FIFA would never ask the men to do for a World Cup. Then they turned their target to their own federation, claiming that they were not being treated fairly, with a slew of matches scheduled by U.S. Soccer on artificial turf, while the men's matches were being played on natural grass.
In recent months, the team has been seeking pay equal to that of the men's team. Five players filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, citing wage discrimination, and they also went to court. However the court ruled in favor of the federation and the players were told they could not strike prior to the Olympics, while the EEOC ruling is not imminent.
The team's Collective Bargaining Agreement, which the court upheld, expires at the end of 2016 and the players are demanding that they get equal pay in the new one. U.S. Soccer has argued that the women and men have entirely different pay structures and the women's players get guaranteed money as part of full-time employment, while only the men's players who are selected for each team get paid, making an apples to apples comparison impossible.
Neogtiations on the new CBA have been on-going, but Megan Rapinoe expressed her disappointment with federation president Sunil Gulati's role in the talks.
"It's quite frustrating to know that he's making comments that he wants to get a deal done, but he hasn't come to one meeting," Rapinoe said to the New York Times. "I've been to three meetings, flown six hours across the country and interrupted my rehab to come to New York, where he lives. And he can't come to one meeting."
Gulati said that while he hasn't attended negotiations, the federation has committed significant resources to the talks and that is one of their top priorities.
"Over the next several months our focus is obviously on the Olympics and getting an equitable deal in place for after the CBA expires."
At least publicly, the players have not expressed much fondness for U.S. Soccer of late. They have clashed often, be it over playing surfaces or pay, and have had no qualms taking legal action or going to the media to make their point that they deserve the same pay and treatment as the men. However, those actions have generally come on their own time, not while representing the national team. With the shirts and tattoos, that will not be the case anymore.
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