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An unexpected result of the US Men’s National Team reaching the knockout round of 16 at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar is that the US Women’s National Team will get its largest collective payday, equally splitting $13 million in winnings with the men.
It’s a big deal for American women who have long sought pay equity, and it amplifies the extreme sliding scale of women’s rights around the globe.
Consider that this payday for US women was won when the US men’s team defeated Iran, a country where authorities are brutally tamping down protests by women who want basic human rights.
It’s a moment of triumph for the US women
The US Women’s National Team excels at soccer and fought hard for years for equal pay.
The earnings they’ll split with the American men could grow if the men continue to advance in the World Cup.
It’s the result of an unprecedented equal pay agreement finalized earlier this year. Read more about the prize money.
FIFA pays bigger awards to the men’s tournament, which draws in more revenue to the international soccer governing body, than to the women’s. The agreement between the US men and women is unique.
“To everyone it should indicate how big the disparity is that FIFA has made between their value of women’s soccer and men’s soccer, and this is the only way that equity could be achieved, if all parties agreed – and they did,” said Briana Scurry, a former US goalkeeper, appearing on CNN Wednesday.
It’s a moment to congratulate the men
Not only did the US Men’s National Team advance to earn the payday, but they also agreed to this unprecedented pot-splitting with the top American women earlier this year.
“These are Title IX males,” said Christine Brennan, the sports columnist and CNN analyst, referring to the US men’s team during an appearance on “CNN Tonight” on Tuesday. She was referring to the landmark 1972 law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs or activities receiving federal funds. It has revolutionized women’s sports in the US and, Brennan argued, influenced male athletes too.
“They weren’t raised like their dads or their grandfathers. And they have a much different outlook, not only about women’s equality in terms of pay, but these are the same men who’ve been talking about standing with the Iranian protesters,” Brennan said.
She praised the US Soccer Federation and the Men’s National Team, who have distinguished themselves not only by advancing, but “even more so in terms of our culture and the stands they have taken.”
It’s a moment to acknowledge where women aren’t thinking about soccer
Iranian women, as you’ll know from following coverage of protests in that country and at the World Cup, are fighting for basic rights.
CNN reported on celebrations in Iran at the national team’s loss to the US. From that report:
“I am happy, this is the government losing to the people,” one witness to celebrations in a city in the Kurdish region, who CNN is not naming for security concerns, told CNN on Wednesday.
The Norway-based Iranian rights group Hengaw posted several videos of similar scenes. “People in Paveh are celebrating Iran’s national team lose over America in World Cup in Qatar, they are chanting ‘Down with Jash (traitors),” Hengaw said in a post.
FIFA is making some moves toward equality
Meanwhile, back in Doha, Qatar, another landmark moment for women in the world’s most popular sport will come Thursday, when the first all-women refereeing team in men’s World Cup history debuts in a pivotal match between Germany and Costa Rica.
Stéphanie Frappart, the French lead official, has already overseen matches at the top levels of European club soccer, so, “I know how to deal with it,” she said in a statement released by FIFA. This match, with a potential audience of billions, will show a woman in charge.
It’s a moment to acknowledge where women are starting to play
If the US men and women are on the road to some sort of parity – the men still make much, much more from their clubs – there are some women in the Middle East who are just gaining access to the pitch.
Saudi Arabia’s men’s team put in a solid show at this World Cup with their defeat of storied Argentina in the opening round. But the Saudis failed to advance past the group stage after losing to Mexico Wednesday.
Meanwhile, women in Saudi Arabia were only allowed inside soccer stadiums in 2018, much less play.
As Saudi Arabia weighs a joint bid to co-host the 2030 men’s World Cup, the kingdom is also in the beginning stages of building a national women’s team. It’ll surely be many years before the Saudi women can be competitive on the world stage, but simply being able to play is certainly progress.
CNN’s Becky Anderson, who is reporting from Doha during this World Cup, talked to the German women’s team legend Monika Staab, who is coaching the nascent Saudi women’s team. She said the kingdom is developing its women through three development academies and wants to host an international tournament in 2026.
Staab said the all-women referee team in Thursday’s match in Qatar will be a powerful symbol for Muslim women watching.
“The women can do like the men,” Staab said on CNN International Wednesday night. “I think that is a big sign for the whole world. We in Saudi Arabia, we play football. That has a great impact on every Muslim girl who wants to play,” Staab said.
People are watching
In the US, women’s soccer has at times been a bigger draw than the men’s game.
About 14 million American viewers watched the women’s World Cup final, featuring the winning US team, in 2019. That was more than watched the men’s World Cup final between France and Croatia in 2018, but far below the 20 million who watched the US take on England in the group stage last Saturday across Fox and Telemundo.