Well, this is kind of awkward.
The United States women’s soccer team is about to defend the World Cup title it won in 2015, as the Women’s World Cup kicks off in France.
It’s a happy time because the preeminent event for women’s soccer only comes around every four years, and it’s usually the biggest chance for women’s soccer to get exposure and attention on a global stage.
But while there figures to be plenty of excitement about the U.S. team and whether it can repeat as champions over the next month or so, there’s one major elephant in the room: a lawsuit by the team against its own federation.
In March, the national team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation in a fight for equality with their male counterparts in pay and other areas, such as travel, medical treatment and coaching.
The 28 players on the national team roster are suing for back pay and for inequalities to be addressed.
The federation in early May denied the allegations brought forth in the lawsuit, responding that members of the men’s team getting paid more than the women’s team was “for legitimate business reasons and not for any discriminatory or other unlawful purpose.”
The federation said the men’s and women’s national teams are separate organizations that generate different amounts of revenue.
It’s no contest which team has the most on-field success. The women’s team has won a world-best three World Cups and is coming off two straight appearances in the championship game, including a 5-2 win over Japan in the final of the 2015 World Cup in Canada.
That championship game was the most-watched soccer game on English-language television in U.S. history.
Meanwhile, the men’s team failed to even qualify for last year’s World Cup in Russia and has only advanced past the round of 16 one time in its history (a quarterfinal appearance in 2002).
But while acknowledging and supporting the success of the women’s team, the federation counters it’s a different ballgame when it comes to revenue.
The federation said the women’s team makes significantly less money from ticket sales at games and that the prize money from the men’s World Cup last year for champion France was $38 million, compared to $2 million for the U.S. women’s team in 2015.
The federation also said that women players have guaranteed salaries and benefits, while men are only paid for individual match appearances on tournament or tournament-qualifying rosters under a “pay-for-play” format.
The women’s national team said in a statement that the federation is still in violation of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII and that “we look forward to a trial next year after the World Cup.”
In the meantime, the women’s national team is brushing the lawsuit aside as much as possible and focused on thrilling the nation once again with on-field success in France as it pursues a fourth title.
“It’s kind of on the back burner now,” team co-captain Carli Lloyd said in an article on Yahoo. “We did what we needed to do and now need to just focus on winning and take care of that later.”