Compensation & Benefits | August 15, 2016

Rio Olympics – Equal Pay for Equal Play

The 2016 Olympics in Rio has already been marred with sexist controversy, beginning with some ill-advised live commentary from NBC, continuing with poorly-worded headlines by the Chicago Tribune, and topping it off with even more ill-advised live commentary from NBC.

The coverage for this Olympics has gotten such a negative reaction, NBC flew SNL’s Leslie Jones to Rio for an emergency commentator gig, hoping to flip the script on what has become the lowest-rated Olympics in recent memory.

Red Card

The hits just keep on coming however, as the complaints aimed at the summer games have revived the touchy subject of equal pay among male and female athletes, specifically the struggle the US women’s national soccer team has been in since March to be recognized on the same level of the men’s team.

Although they were eliminated early in the 2016 games, the US women’s national soccer team has won three World Cup titles and three Olympic gold medals, three more in each category than their male counterparts, yet according to team members Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, and Hope Solo, they take home 25 percent less pay on average.

That’s what was alleged in an official complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in March. It uses the 2014 World Cup as a chief example, where the US men’s team earned a $9 million bonus for being eliminated in round 16 while the women’s team only received $2 million for winning the championship match. That same year, Germany won the men’s championship and received a whopping $35 million bonus.

Furthermore, the men’s team receives a per-game cash bonus for every match they play over the 20-game minimum, while the women’s team gets nothing for playing additional games.

On the Defensive

The US Soccer Federation has flatly denied the accusations, claiming that the unequal pay is a result of two wildly different collective bargaining agreements signed by both the male and female players’ unions. They assert that male players get paid per game while female players get paid a base salary no matter how many games they play, so it is an unfair comparison of two different pay arrangements.

Regardless, the women’s team argues, the USF’s numbers won’t stand up to scrutiny, and the biggest disparity is in the bonus payouts appropriated by the USF and FIFA. After adding everything up they still take home around one-quarter less pay on average, and are sometimes asked to play in dangerously sub-standard facilities to boot. Union agreements aside, this is a complaint that doesn’t just spring up out of nowhere.

Washington Steps In

Recently Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and 21 other Democrats passed a resolution in Congress to investigate equal pay for the women’s team, in an effort to amplify their voices and urge meaningful action.

“This isn’t just about the money,” Murray said when she addressed her fellow senators. “It’s about the message it sends to women and girls across the world. The pay gap between the men and women’s soccer teams is emblematic of what is happening all across our country.” Indeed, as of 2015, female full-time workers only made 79 cents on the dollar compared to men. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see what’s happening not just to the USWNT, but to every woman who is still struggling with this mind-boggling inconsistency.

An Equal Pay Goal

This is something that quite simply has to change if Americans are to be a happy and productive workforce over the next several decades. Demeaning one subset of workers with unequal pay who do the exact same job is just ludicrous business sense, and a sure way to stay clear of any “Top Places to Work” accolades. It is about basic fairness and decency – not to mention recognizing our true top performers.

“The numbers speak for themselves,” Solo said. “We are the best in the world, have three World Cup championships, four Olympic championships, and the [men] get paid more to just show up than we get paid to win major championships.”

We hope that our female soccer stars continue to raise the alarm, and continue to push equal pay for equal (in this case, superior) work as a paramount workplace concern. Discriminatory wage practices are so 20th Century, folks.

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