Standing Face-to-Face with Gender Pay Gap

Mandi Paine ’18 examines the gender pay inequalities that continue to plague the world of sports.

This past summer, a midfielder on the U.S. women’s national soccer team struck the ball just beyond the halfway line and sent it over the Japanese goalkeeper’s head. The goal was Carli Lloyd’s third of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Final game, putting the U.S. ahead of Japan 5-2 and claiming the World Cup trophy for the next four years.

The team was awarded two million dollars along with their trophy for winning the quadrennial tournament, according to the Huffington Post. A large sum in and of itself, it sits in sharp contrast to the nearly thirty-five million dollars the German men’s national soccer team received after winning the men’s tournament only a year before, and is in even greater disparity when compared to the total sums awarded to all teams. Notably, $576 million was awarded to the 32 teams that competed in the 2014 Men’s World Cup while only $15 million was awarded to the 24 women’s teams in 2015.

The gender pay gap is not exclusive to athletics. Numerous reports have found that, on average, full-time working women earn just 78 cents for every dollar a man earns. The U.S. legislative branch has tried numerous times to pass bills that would help reduce this gap, but to no avail, with the trend continuing this past summer as a resolution was proposed, and rejected, to alleviate the unequal payment of the soccer teams.

Shortly after Lloyd and her teammates took home the trophy in July, U.S. Representatives Jackie Speier and Linda Sanchez of California, along with 33 of their colleagues, introduced a resolution that called for FIFA to provide equal pay for the women’s soccer teams. While it did not get passed, it raised the issues of pay inequality in athletics to a national stage.

Abby Wambach, a recently-retired forward from the U.S. women’s national team, left a legacy as a legend among other soccer players. Having scored 184 goals in 252 international matches, she is currently the leading all-time international scorer among both women and men. Yet she was paid only $190,000 a year, compared to the $6.7 million a year men’s national team captain Clint Dempsey received.

Many people argue that it would be impossible for women’s soccer teams in the U.S. to receive as much support as the men’s teams because of a simple fact: the sports industry has invested a large amount of capital in men’s soccer for decades and left women’s teams on the sidelines. The root of the problem with pay inequity stems from sexism existing in industries that publicize women’s sports like ESPN’s SportsCenter, which spends a measly two percent of airtime covering women’s sports highlights.

FIFA itself is not exempt from the sexism and gender pay gap discourses that exist in the United States. During this past Summer’s women’s world cup, the teams were forced to play on turf fields, which can be a danger to the players in the Summer heat and can more easily cause injury than grass fields. Opposing teams were also forced to stay in the same hotel. Both of these issues are not things that male soccer players have to deal with. Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA, also remarked that “women’s sports would be more popular if they wore tighter uniforms”, which is simply a sexist comment in any context.

The final game of the World Cup in July shattered TV viewing records by having the largest audience out of any soccer match in the United States, men or women’s. The viewer ratings also surpassed that of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final as well as the NCAA Men’s basketball Championship, making the USWNT renowned heroes nationwide. With the growing support for professional women’s soccer in the U.S., one can only hope that the fight to close the gender pay gap will continue and female soccer  players will prevail by shattering the glass ceiling.

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