Who doesn’t love a classic sports rivalry? There’s Barcelona vs. Madrid, Ateneo vs. La Salle, and Coco Montrese vs. Alyssa Edwards. Everyone who’s been in any competition might know that feeling. Every win feels good, but they always feel a little better when they’re against that opponent. It’s their name you’re thinking of when you’re running on the treadmill at full speed. No earbuds in, just the imagined sound of their frustrated cries. The United States women’s national soccer team (USWNT) has got someone like that in mind. However, their biggest rival isn’t really the type you’d find on the field, but rather, in court. Earlier this year, the USWNT filed a lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). Their grounds? You guessed it, institutional sexism.
To provide some context, it should be known that the USWNT is a huge deal. I’m not even just talking about their anti-Trump stances, or incredible LGBTQ visibility. Their jersey is the most sold by Nike. They’ve placed in every single WWC ever. Their 1999 home against China had one of the largest audiences in attendance in history, with 90,000 filling the Rose Bowl Stadium in California. Their 2015 final against Japan holds the record for being the most-watched football match on television in the US. And in case you missed it, they just bagged their fourth Women’s World Cup championship in France. It was a riveting couple of months, with many speculating whether the team would be able to repeat the success of their 2015 title (they did). USWNT’s own queen of midfield and gay hearts Megan Rapinoe was given the Golden Boot as the best overall player and Golden Ball award as the tournament’s top scorer. Super striker Alex Morgan also walked away with the Silver Boot award for scoring the second most goals. They’ve consistently outperformed their male counterparts in the sport by leaps and bounds, and yet, they don’t receive nearly as much pay.
Professional sports have one of the biggest gender gaps. Tennis player Billie Jean-King was one of the most famous cases of this. When she won the 1972 US Open, her prize money was only 40 percent of what the men’s champion got, so she said she’d boycott the competition the following year if nothing changed. Thus, the prize money for men and women were equal the next year, and all tennis grand slams eventually followed suit.
More than athletes, gay icons, or people I desperately wanna have a beer with, the USWNT are on the forefront of the fight to receive the same amount of money for the same amount of labor for men.
Not all sports adopted the same ethos, though. FIFA awards the winner for the Men’s World Cup $400 million while the women receive $30 million in comparison. Biases in media coverage, sponsorships, and the longer establishment of men’s sports definitely contribute to the disparity. However, the USWNT’s argument comes down to the fact that they have consistently been sidelined by their employers, not just in terms of salary, but training times, accommodations, and game venues. The kicker being, of course, that they do better and are more popular than the men’s team.
That’s a familiar feeling for female athletes all over the world, and it’s pretty damn real for Filipina athletes too. I’ve spent the better part of middle school and high school between the goalposts myself. I’ve seen firsthand how young women’s football tends to be grossly overlooked in Manila. Girls’ tourneys and competition tend to be much smaller and get less funding. The fields we played in were usually second-tier compared to what boys’ teams got. This imbalance also heavily carries over to the collegiate and professional side. Only one women’s sport in the UAAP, volleyball, gets television coverage while men’s football, volleyball, and basketball all enjoy live broadcasts. Even stars like weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz have struggled to secure proper funding from the government.
The battle for equal pay is not a battle that we’ll win today. Several sports have made strides to create better conditions for female athletes and many leagues award equal prize money for men and women, but not all. It isn’t just about the game anymore, we can’t put it in a vacuum away from the misogyny that exists in every single industry. More than athletes, gay icons, or people I desperately wanna have a beer with, the USWNT are on the forefront of the fight to receive the same amount of money for the same amount of labor for men. They celebrated their WWC win with a ticker tape parade in New York, throwing copies of their lawsuit against the USSF in the air as confetti. The USSF and USWNT have yet to go to court, officially. If you see the looks on these ladies faces though, there’s one message they have for the world: Let’s do it baby, I know the law.