U.S. Soccer fires back in equal pay saga, says USWNT won't meet with them over FIFA prize money dispute

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President Carlos Cordeiro and U.S. Soccer are pushing back on the USWNT's claim they've been unwilling to pay the women equally. (Photo by Maddie Meyer - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
President Carlos Cordeiro and U.S. Soccer are pushing back on the USWNT's claim they've been unwilling to pay the women equally. (Photo by Maddie Meyer - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

U.S. Soccer is hitting back against the narrative put forth by the U.S. women’s national team that the federation has been unwilling to pay the women equally.

In a letter issued to U.S. Soccer’s membership Saturday, president Carlos Cordeiro says the federation has offered the USWNT an identical payment structure to that of the U.S. men’s national team. The USWNT rejected to even discuss it, he says, because they want the federation to make up FIFA’s disparities in World Cup prize money.

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As the USWNT laid out in legal filings last month, the shortfall in payments to the USWNT compared to their male counterparts, which includes FIFA prize money, amounts to $66 million worth of back pay.

“Last month, we offered the WNT Players Association multiple contract options, which we strongly believe address the team’s goals as they have been presented to us by the players and their representatives,” Cordeiro writes. “In particular, we have offered to provide identical compensation to our women’s and men’s players for all matches controlled by U.S. Soccer.”

According to Cordeiro, U.S. Soccer has tried to meet with the players to discuss a resolution, but they have refused – a source says they refused three times. Another source disputes Cordeiro’s characterization that he reached out to the Players Association, saying that his proposal was sent to the players’ legal counsel, as that’s the proper channel for settlement proposals.

A spokeswoman for the USWNT offered a very different account late Saturday, however, and accused Cordeiro’s letter of being “riddled with falsehoods.”

In response to Cordeiro’s remarks, USWNT spokeswoman Molly Levinson said the federation never offered equal pay and “employed dishonest tactics by asking to speak to the players and their legal representatives in confidence, demanding confidential conversations, and then immediately leaking the conversations to the media using distorted information.”

The federation, she said, based its equal pay proposal on the 2011 collective bargaining agreement for the U.S. men’s national team, which offers lower bonuses than the one currently in effect, “so, they offered women players the men’s rates negotiated a decade ago with no commitment to match the new men’s deal going forward.”

She also argued the federation’s proposal guaranteed pay for “the smallest number of games possible.”

The timing of Cordeiro’s letter is not exactly ideal. 

The USWNT is currently on national team duty and in camp for the SheBelieves Cup, where they are preparing to face Spain on Sunday in New Jersey. Sources have indicated to Yahoo that while many players have compartmentalized the legal fight with U.S. Soccer in dealing with the federation, there has been palpable tension with others.

A source says Cordeiro texted at least one USWNT player to offer a heads up that the letter would be posted Saturday, but all the players read the contents of the letter from his Twitter feed after he shared it.

The letter was released after the players’ media availability on Saturday, and it remains to be seen how much it could overshadow Sunday’s game against Spain. Sunday will mark the one-year anniversary since the USWNT players filed their lawsuit against U.S. Soccer on International Women’s Day.

While the timing is abrupt, it seemed inevitable that U.S. Soccer would punch back once legal proceedings forced the $66 million figure to become public, which the federation seems to think is an outrageous number that won’t play well in the court of public opinion.

Part of the federation’s argument is that $66 million figure is based on what the women earned from winning back-to-back World Cups, but that difference is largely driven by FIFA, which offers a prize of $38 million for men winning a World Cup but only $4 million for women. The USMNT’s contract with U.S. Soccer does not offer a simple transfer of FIFA prize money to the players, but it does offer huge bonuses for the World Cup based on FIFA’s prize money

The women will be able to point out, however, that some of the bonuses the U.S. men can earn during a World Cup seem to have no direct relation to prize money, such as bonuses for every point earned during the group stage of the tournament. If the USWNT would’ve won back-to-back World Cups under the USMNT’s contract, they would’ve earned a lot more money, whether it came from FIFA or not.

Since this lawsuit deals only with how the U.S. Soccer Federation treats its male and female players, FIFA, the world governing body of soccer, can’t be held accountable for its discriminatory approach to the women’s side of the sport.

In his letter, Cordeiro argues that U.S. Soccer cannot afford to make up for FIFA’s disparity in prize money because the federation has 22 national teams across the youth landscape and in other parts of the sport, like futsal. 

“It is not reasonable or fiscally sound for U.S. Soccer to make up the gap,” he writes. “It would seriously impair our ability to support our mission and invest in these other critical developmental areas.”

Cordeiro said an offer to provide “identical compensation to our MNT and WNT for all matches controlled by U.S. Soccer” will remain on the table.

Levinson, the USWNT spokeswoman, offered little hope that such a proposal to go anywhere.

“The players will focus on leaving it all on the field tomorrow for the SheBelieves Cup – a tournament that in USSF’s words ‘celebrates the hopes and dreams of women and girls,’” she said. “In addition, we look forward to filing our opposition to USSF’s motion for summary judgment on Monday and to the trial in less than two months, on May 5. There is no compromising on equal pay.”

Caitlin Murray is a contributor to Yahoo Sports and her book about the U.S. women’s national team, The National Team: The Inside Story of the Women Who Changed Soccer, is out now. Follow her on Twitter @caitlinmurr.

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