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April 3, 2016 — How one field-invasion sport might helps another

Last week, five men’s of the U.S. women’s national soccer team filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging wage discrimination.

The complaint was filed under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights and the Equal Pay Act, and has bandied about numbers which have been widely reported in the last three or four days.

Our women’s national team is absolutely right in seeking pay equality with the men in terms of their service to their governing body. There is a pay gap in just about every conceivable metric, from the per-diem ($50 for the women, $62.50 for the men) to the per-game bonus for friendlies (the women have to win them in order to get any compensation; the men receive $5,000 for a loss) to performance bonuses for the World Cup (the men received nearly $10 million for getting to the Round of 16 while the women received just $2 million for winning the 2015 World Cup).

It’s a damning wage gap. It has also led to a number of false equivalencies as pundits have tried to spin the numbers surrounding women’s soccer, including the salaries offered to women’s players in club football.

Pay equality for athletes in the elite pool is something enjoyed in many athletic endeavors. This summer, in the pool, Michael Phelps will earn the same medal bonus as Missy Franklin.

And despite the fact that women’s figure skaters are often the stars of competitions, the U.S. pays its men’s and women’s figure skaters equally, an inducement to keep men in the sport.

The EEOC complaint is narrowly tailored to the issue of pay equity, and does not extend to other workplace issues such as having to play on artificial grass pitches during the 2015 Victory Tour.

But in an enterprise story printed by the New York Daily News one day before the EEOC complaint was filed, there was another avenue of complaint which could one day come into play when it comes to this complaint, and perhaps, many others.

I’ll quote this portion of Section 6 of the Daily News story:

[I]t might be a symptom of an organization, US Soccer, that may have strayed outside its responsibility as a national governing body under the 1998 Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act. In fact, their situation may very well be a violation of that U.S. law.

The law, a revision of the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, protects athletes competing in international competitions as representatives of the United States. It regulates and guides the behavior of the national sports organizations that train competitors to bring home those cups, medals and trophies …

… Most significantly, US Soccer must “provide equitable support and encouragement for participation by women where separate programs for male and female athletes are conducted on a national basis.” The Women’s National Team is by name equal to the Men’s National Team and the language of the act refers to participation in “world championships.” That should mean it is entitled to equitable support and encouragement in every aspect, aside from those supports its members have bargained away in their employment contracts (what is known as their collective bargaining agreements). That would include coaching budgets, working conditions and development …

… The question, however, is not whether US Soccer supports the WNT but supports them equitably. As long as the women haven’t signed away their Ted Stevens rights under a separate legal agreement, they should be able to make the case that the issues that strike them as unfair really are unfair. And perhaps even illegal. This is one of the reasons why the results of a lawsuit filed by US Soccer against the Women’s National Team in February could soon get very interesting.

The issue here is the degree to which a national governing body is permitted to shift funding away from one gender to another, simply because of gender.

If this sounds familiar, this reminds one of the disconnect between the sexes when it comes to men’s field hockey in the United States. Indeed, four years ago, the men’s national team was, in fact if not in name, shut down. They were not allowed to attend a last-chance qualifier in India in 2012, while, at the same time, its resources, including coaching staff, were all shifted towards the women’s team for London 2012. The team finished 12th.

There is also a lot of disequanimity in other endeavors such as women’s weightlifting, men’s gymnastics, and women’s boxing. In an odd way, if the EEOC releases a broad ruling when it comes to pay, working conditions, and development of the sport nationwide, I would surmise that several national governing bodies — not just field hockey — will have some work to do.

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