Why The World’s Best Team May Not Be At The Olympics

The USWNT (United States Women’s National Team) is without doubt, the best women’s national team in the world. They won the 2015 World Cup with a dominating 5-2 victory over Japan. They also have the world’s best female player in Carli Lloyd who as well as captaining her country to victory, she became only the second player in history to bag a World Cup final hat-trick – the other was Geoff Hurst for England in 1966.

One thing they do not have is a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). In 2012, the collective bargaining agreement between the USSF (United States Soccer Federation) and the WNTPA (Women’s National Team Player’s Association) expired. Since then, they have been operating under a memorandum of understanding. Soon, they may not be operating at all. So what is all this legal-babble, why is there a push for equal pay, and how will this affect the football we want to see at this summer’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro?

With the problem ongoing, the USWNT is preparing to go on strike, on the eve of the Olympics. To many outside the United States, the idea of bargaining agreements, players striking, and equal pay for men and women seems (for lack of a better term) foreign. Sports fans in the US are used to disputes between player unions and sporting associations, with both the NFL and NHL having “lockouts” in the last ten years when agreements could not be reached in time for the new season. MLS players nearly had a strike a few years ago, but football in the US has been relatively untouched from these toxic legal battles. Until now.

 

A CBA is an agreement between the employers and employees, negotiated by management and the employees’ union(s) which defines the terms of employment for employers and employees. Safety issues, insurance, salary, are just a few key things in sports CBAs.

In 2012, the CBA for the USWNT expired. Since that time, the team has continued to play and have lifted the most prestigious tournament in the game – the World Cup. But how have they continued to play without an agreement in place? The answer is a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ which acts as the CBA.

This document has been “the guiding document” in the relationship between US Soccer and its female players during the last four years. US Soccer has brought the players’ union to court, arguing that there is a valid CBA in place, while the players’ union argues that there is not one in place, and wants some clarity on a messy situation.

What could bring an accelerated end to this legal nonsense is if the USWNT strikes. With no team, how would the United States be represented at the Olympics? US Soccer would take a lot of criticism and lose money from not having a team on the field. US Soccer knows that withdrawing the team is not an option, and will cave in to many of the union’s demands.

The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) has taken the the union to court to PREVENT the strike from even happening, arguing that the CBA has a no-strike clause. They argue that the CBA is still in place, and therefore the USWNT cannot strike. A US court will be ruling shortly, and many think they will rule in favour the players’ union. If that is the case, then a strike will happen. Right now, the USSF is doing all they can to keep the team on the field. The players’ union sees this and realizes that if they want to speed up this process they must take this fight to the public – an all-out public relations war.

 

Reading football news, or even the regular news, many in the US and around the world say that the USWNT has asked for equal pay. Numbers have come out showing that players on the USWNT have been severely underpaid compared to their male counterparts.

For reaching the Round of 16 and quarter-finals of the World Cup, the USWNT are paid nothing while their male counterparts get paid thousands of dollars for reaching those stages. Winning the World Cup gives a nearly $10 million reward for the men (like that will ever happen), while the women only get $1.9 million. USWNT players do not even get paid when they lose a game, whereas the men get paid thousands each.

All that said, you can make an argument that “equal pay” should not happen.

Despite all of the success that the USWNT have achieved, they do not generate enough revenue to be paid as much a the USMNT. They deserve to be paid proportionally to the revenue they bring in. Without getting into a debate regarding equal pay and taking sides, it is clear that despite not bringing in as much revenue, the USWNT is not receiving a fair share of the pie, especially one they helped make. This equal-pay demand includes a huge social media and public relations campaign by all players on the team including the most high-profile ones, which has inspired many citizens across the country.

Many Americans, even non-football fans see the numbers, shrug their shoulders and say “yeah, the USWNT need to be paid more.” The Senate unanimously approved a non-binding resolution calling on the U.S. Soccer Federation to “immediately end gender pay inequity and to treat all athletes with the respect and dignity those athletes deserve.” Since the resolution was approved female players around the world have stepped up their campaign for more equal representation and compensation.

Carli Lloyd, Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, Becky Sauerbrunn and Megan Rapinoe – all prominent members of the national team have filed a complaint to the Equal Opportunity Commission. This process will involve an investigation by the Commission that could last 12 months or more. This equal-pay campaign would likely have never come to light, or at least been on a much smaller scale, if a CBA agreement favourable towards the USWNT was agreed upon and implemented. The USSF could have a group of happy players on their way to Rio to go for Olympic Gold, but instead, they have a team in open revolt – readying to walk away from the negotiating table along with the pitch, and strike.

 

There are still a few solutions that will see the USWNT take to the field in South America, although many are unlikely:

1) The US court rules in favour of the USSF. This means the “current” CBA is still valid until December of 2016. A new CBA will be negotiated to begin in 2017.

2) The USSF caves in and gives in to the demands of the USWNT Player’s Association. Better pay, better representation. An inspirational to all.

3) A players strike just before the Olympics may be able to scare the USSF to agree to a new CBA.

4) The EOC somehow conduct an accelerated investigation and made a ruling, forcing the USWNTPA and USSF to come to an agreement. This last solution is beyond unlikely, pretty much impossible.

An agreement must be made before the 5th of August, or the USWNT will not be competing in this summer’s Olympics.

The USWNT may not be the only ones fighting in a courtroom instead of on the pitch this summer, Lionel Messi has to attend a Spanish Court during the Copa America in the United States due to his reoccurring tax issues which relates to a network of shell companies partly owned by the star in Panama, Belize and Uruguay.

The summer promises to be an interesting one in the footballing world, however, the beautiful game is a lot better to watch when played on the field – not in the courtroom.

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