The US women's national soccer team may be world champions, but their salaries suggest otherwise. For their stunning 5-2 World Cup victory over Japan in July, they were paid 17 times less than the German men's team, who won the 2014 World Cup ($2 million versus $35 million). This was the case even though the women's game broke viewership records and beat the men's match in the ratings. And the 11th-place US men's team got $9 million, more than four times as much as the winning women's team.
That's why on Thursday, the team asked a federal judge to allow them to strike over pay disparities — two months before the start of the Summer Olympics.
Also on Thursday, the US Senate passed a nonbinding resolution to "immediately end gender pay inequity and to treat all athletes with the respect and dignity those athletes deserve."
The women's team has had to put up with a lot, even on top of pay disparities. The women's team post-championship "victory tour" was set to be played almost entirely on artificial turf, which players consider inferior to real grass — while the men's team didn't play a single US game on artificial turf all year.
Field conditions were so bad that star player Megan Rapinoe was injured on what her teammates described as a "subpar" training field, which led the players to cancel a victory tour game in Hawaii against Trinidad and Tobago.
In one sense, canceling the game was a pure safety concern. The US Soccer Federation agreed with the team that the field was simply unplayable. But the turf also became a symbol of the inequality between female soccer players and their male counterparts.
"Our federation continues to put us into subpar and unsafe playing conditions compared to the men, and we decided it was time to stand against that," goalkeeper Hope Solo told BuzzFeed News. "This is bigger than one game for us. We decided to take a stand that this cannot go on."
Now the team is taking a major stand again, one that could cost them their chance to play in the Olympics. It's a chance they seem willing to take.
It's worth noting that the wage gap for women soccer players is orders of magnitude larger than the overall wage gap for women in the United States.
In addition to the pay gap between the winners of the 2015 Women's World Cup and the 2014 Men's World Cup, professional soccer in the US has a large pay divide. National Women's Soccer League players earn an estimated 98.6 percent less than players in Major League Soccer, its male equivalent.
Critics argue that the disparity is justified since women's soccer brings in much lower revenues, even though the USWNT is a world champion team that shattered ratings records, with more viewers than both the average NBA Finals game or the average Stanley Cup game.
But FIFA, which has claimed it's dedicated to gender equality, is still facing political pressure to pay its star women players equally. And after FIFA's infamous $100 million bribing scandal, it's harder to argue that it can't afford to.