Megan Rapinoe has been one of the most visible and vocal advocates for equal treatment for the U.S. women’s and men’s national soccer teams over the past six years.
On Wednesday, after a pair of historic, interconnected collective-bargaining agreements that ended a long pursuit of equal pay for women were announced, the OL Reign forward handed the mic — via Twitter — to Becky Sauerbrunn, president of the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association.
In a Twitter thread shared by Rapinoe, Sauerbrunn thanked “the women who led and continue to lead the fight for equal pay across sports and in everyday life.”
She identified decades of athletes and fans who helped bring “equal pay for equal work” closer to reality.
“Always more to do, but let’s enjoy this for a minute or two,” Sauerbrunn tweeted.
The work continues, but years of campaigning by the defending World Cup champions led to a first — and a blueprint. Men’s and women’s U.S. soccer players will receive the same pay when competing in international matches and competitions.
“This is just a really historic moment that will hopefully lead to meaningful changes and progress not only here at home in the U.S., but around the world,” U.S. Soccer Federation President Cindy Parlow Cone said during a news conference Wednesday. “I think this will not only impact soccer, but it will impact sport in general, as well as society.
“I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved together.”
“It’s great for the world, honestly,” Sounders midfielder Kelyn Rowe added. “Those ladies deserve all the equal pay that they get because they’ve won so much in their time and they’re getting back pay, which is great because they’ve done so well for our country and they’ve supported us (men) in many ways.”
Identical compensation for all competitions, notably including pooled FIFA World Cup prize money, and commercial revenue sharing are part of the agreements that run through 2028. So are benefits that include health and retirement plans, plus child care for men’s and women’s senior national teams.
Perhaps the biggest sticking point was World Cup prize money, which is based on how far a team advances in the tournament. While the U.S. women have been successful on the international stage with back-to-back World Cup titles, differences in FIFA prize money meant they took home far less than the men’s winners. American women received a $110,000 bonus for winning the 2019 World Cup; the U.S. men would have received $407,000 had they won in 2018.
The unions agreed to pool FIFA’s payments for the men’s World Cup this year and next year’s Women’s World Cup, as well as for the 2026 and 2027 tournaments.
Each player will get matching game appearance fees in what the USSF said makes it the first federation to pool FIFA prize money in this manner.
In March 2016, Rapinoe and Sauerbrunn were among five women’s national team stars who filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying the U.S. Soccer Federation paid them less than their male counterparts. A gender discrimination lawsuit was filed in 2019, and a $24 million settlement was announced in February.
Rapinoe did not return requests for an interview Wednesday.
Cone expected a better look at the ramifications in 10-15 years. University of Washington women’s soccer coach Nicole Van Dyke noted there was more to come.
“This is a historic moment for not only our women’s national team, but women in sports and all women,” Van Dyke said in a statement. “I am inspired by the tireless work of so many.
“Our women’s national team has had an enormous amount of success on the field. We celebrate all the women who paved the way as well as those currently moving us forward. While I know there’s still work to be done, our women set the stage for growth across the globe. They motivate us to persevere for all the women and girls across the country.”
In a news release, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, a Democrat who represents Washington’s second congressional district, praised Wednesday’s announcement.
“United States Women’s National Team athletes deserve equal pay for equal work. Today’s announcement marks overdue progress toward equal pay,” Larsen said.
In another significant change, the USSF will no longer pay the National Women’s Soccer League club team wages of national team players. That responsibility now belongs to NWSL clubs such as OL Reign.
USWNT forward Margaret Purce, a member of the team’s bargaining committee, said she hopes the agreement inspires other groups to “push further.”
“The continued fight — that has been going on since before I was even a part of it — has all added up to the end,” she said.
After missing the 2018 World Cup, the men qualified for this year’s World Cup in Qatar, which starts in November. The women’s team will seek to qualify this year for the 2023 World Cup, co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
Cone was a member of the 1999 U.S. women’s national team. She said the texts have been flying between her teammates, who took up the fight more than 20 years ago.
“It’s just such a proud moment to actually be a leader, be the first to do it,” Cone said.
“Our hope is that now when others are going through this, they have something to point to and we can be a resource of how we got here and help them through the process.”
Seattle Times staff reporter Jayda Evans and The Associated Press contributed to this report.