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The Women's World Cup is less than three months away, and the world champion U.S. women's soccer team once again heads into the tournament ranked No. 1. But the players say there is a problem. They're suing U.S. Soccer, the sport's governing body in this country, over what they allege to be unfair pay and treatment. Joining us now is NPR's Laurel Wamsley. Welcome to the studio.
LAUREL WAMSLEY, BYLINE: Thank you.
CORNISH: So what does the lawsuit accuse U.S. Soccer of doing?
WAMSLEY: So U.S. Soccer is the employer for the men and women who play on the national teams for the U.S. And what the women's team argues is that despite performing the same job responsibilities as the players on the men's team, they are consistently paid less than the men are. And that, they say, is a violation of the Equal Pay Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. They want equal pay for equal work. So what they're seeking is an end to these discriminatory practices, they say. And they also want to be paid, and they want to get punitive damages.
CORNISH: So when we say they, who are the parties involved here?
WAMSLEY: This is the entire U.S. women's team - all 28 players on the team that are in the mix for the World Cup this summer. And they're also seeking this to be a class action lawsuit, so that would cover other women who may have been discriminated against.
CORNISH: So do the women get paid less?
WAMSLEY: Yeah, they definitely do. So they get paid less for each game they play. That's, like, friendly matches. And they also get paid less for making the World Cup roster. And then they got paid less - way less - for winning the 2015 World Cup than the players on the men's team did for getting knocked out of their World Cup in the round of 16. So it's a little complicated, actually, though, because FIFA in that case is the one that allots the prize winnings to the nations. And that's sort of based on how much, you know, the men's World Cup brings in, which is more than the women's World Cup does. So it's sort of tricky for them to see.
CORNISH: So we know the women's team wins on the field. What about the business side? Are the women paid less because they generate less revenue? I mean, you mentioned that when it came to the World Cup.
WAMSLEY: So neither U.S. Soccer nor the women's players union has released that sort of financial data. But in the lawsuit, the women's complaint - the women complain that U.S. Soccer doesn't work hard enough to market their team and that it unilaterally decides to charge less for tickets to their games, which depresses revenue. But the team definitely has a following. In the final of the last World Cup in 2015 - when the U.S. beat Japan - that was the most-watched soccer game in U.S. history, men or women.
CORNISH: What does U.S. Soccer have to say about all this?
WAMSLEY: Well, they told me that they won't comment on existing litigation, but in response to a case in 2016 with similar charges, U.S. Soccer said that any pay discrepancy wasn't on the basis of gender. But they're actually in sort of a tricky spot because it's a World Cup year, and a big part of the messaging around the team is how fierce these players are, how talented they are. And the players have been outspoken on a number of issues, including LGBT rights, police brutality. And they've been especially vocal when it comes to equality for women. At a game just last weekend, the players each wore the name of a different iconic and influential woman on the back of their jerseys.
So it also is a little complicated because the current president of U.S. Soccer, when he was campaigning for that job, even said that the U.S. women's team should be respected and valued just as much as the men's teams, but that the female players have not been treated equally. And so some of the top women do get paid more now than they did just a few years ago, but the lawsuit says that U.S. Soccer only pays lip service to gender equality.
CORNISH: Do you get the sense that this is a surprise, or is it something that's been brewing for a while?
WAMSLEY: I think that U.S. Soccer had hoped that some of this was sort of behind them and that things were not going to be tense going into the World Cup, which starts in June. But at the same time, there was a charge filed back in 2016 that was never resolved. So I think they must've known that there was a chance that this would bubble up again.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Laurel Wamsley. Thanks so much.
WAMSLEY: Thank you.
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