Time to put the equal pay for female athletes conversation to rest

Fans with banners calling for equal pay line the parade route Wednesday in New York for the U.S. women's national soccer
Fans with banners calling for equal pay line the parade route Wednesday in New York for the U.S. women’s national soccer team. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

I joined hundreds of fellow soccer fans a week ago to watch the U.S. women’s national soccer team take the field in the final of the World Cup.

NewBo City Market’s hall was packed with fans, about half drinking coffee and the other half beer for the 10 a.m. game, all there to take in the American players’ signature mix of steely skill and joyful exuberance.

According to Fox Sports, which carried the match in the United States, some 20 million people tuned into the game on their network, split between nearly 14.3 million on TV and millions more streaming online. The network reported that topped the men’s final World Cup viewership last year by 22 percent.

Coverage throughout the tournament, and especially in the days since the U.S. team’s victory, has examined not just the state of play but the state of pay; specifically, the gender discrimination lawsuit 28 members of the women’s team filed against the U.S. Soccer Federation before the World Cup started. The suit protests pay disparities between the men’s and women’s teams.

Much of the analysis since the final has lauded the win as fuel for the lawsuit’s fire, a way to bolster the women’s case. I get where that analysis is coming from, but at the same time, it just makes me feel tired.

Because haven’t we had this conversation before? The world governing body of soccer, FIFA, added a women’s World Cup only in 1991, which the U.S. team promptly won. They went on to win again in 1999. I was in junior high, but I still remember the conversations that sprung up at the time about how this was generating so much interest in women’s soccer. They won again in 2015, along with bagging Olympic gold medals in 1996, 2004, 2008 and 2012.

If being very good at their jobs was a requirement for equal pay, they’d already done that. And again. And again.


The men’s team, meanwhile, never has won a World Cup. They came in third, once, in 1930. And no gold medals in their trophy cases.

Moreover, according to reporting by the Wall Street Journal, from 2016 to 2018, the women’s games generated about $50.8 million to the men’s games $49.9 million.

An old argument is that male athletes generate more revenue and higher audiences than female athletes, which is why they should be paid more. Another, even more cringeworthy case that has been made against equal pay is that male athletes are more exciting to watch. If we’re not ready to abandon those tired arguments yet, then by the metrics of viewership numbers, revenue generated and general dominance in the sport, the U.S. women should earn more than the men.

If we’re not ready to accept that logic, maybe it’s time to drop those excuses entirely.

Maybe we shouldn’t require women to continuously prove they are worthy of equality, as if their humanity is something that can be earned with penalty kicks and good defense.

Maybe we should just treat people fairly and pay them equally because it’s the right thing to do.

l Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

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