U.S. Soccer Federation president Cindy Parlow Cone on Friday sent an open letter asking the unions of the women's and men's national teams to agree to equalize FIFA's World Cup prize money.
She called for the men's national team to allow the USSF to reallocate a portion of FIFA's World Cup payments to the federation to the women's team. Parlow Cone said the USSF will be offering both unions the same contract.
The World Cup prize money has been one of the many sticking points between USSF and the players, as the federation insists that because FIFA controls the prize pot, it is out of its control to divide it equally.
The USWNT players argue that there are a large number of games, such as World Cup qualifying, for which FIFA doesn't control the money.
Players led by Alex Morgan sued the USSF in March 2019. Parlow Cone on Friday encouraged the United States women's national team and the men's national team to join together to negotiate "a solution that equalizes World Cup prize money between the USMNT and USWNT."
"As a former player, I want to once again make it clear that I, along with all of U.S. Soccer, am 100% committed to equal pay for our national team players. We remain steadfast in our dedication to ensuring equal pay for our national team," Parlow Cone said in the letter. "We're focused on demonstrating this commitment through action. As a federation, we would much rather negotiate a single collective bargaining agreement with both the men's and women's teams, but since neither team has agreed to take that approach, we are moving forward separately with each Players Association.
"The massive discrepancy in FIFA World Cup prize money is by far the most challenging issue we continue to face in our parallel negotiations with the men's and women's national teams. While FIFA has made some impactful investments in the women's game, the discrepancy in prize money remains stark.
"FIFA alone controls those funds, and U.S. Soccer is legally obligated to distribute those funds based on our current negotiated collective bargaining agreements with the men's and women's teams.
"Within this challenge, we see an opportunity to create change. To capitalize on that opportunity, we need our men's and women's national teams to come together and re-think how we've done things in the past. To that end, we have invited the players and both Players Associations to join U.S. Soccer in negotiating a solution together that equalizes World Cup prize money between the USMNT and USWNT."
Both the USWNT Players Association and the players who have sued the USSF rejected a number of the claims made in the latest letter.
"It is simply false that in past negotiations the Federation offered the Women's National Team the 'exact same contract.' If the USSF was serious about equal pay, they would not engage in publicity stunts which fall short of addressing our issues," Becca Roux, executive director of the USWNT Players Association, said in a statement.
"We are interested in negotiating in good faith to get a fair deal for our players and will not let them use our fight for equality to create a divide between the women and men. We remain committed to working with all parties for a fair deal that lifts all players."
A spokesperson for the players involved in the case said that actions were needed over more words.
"USSF has finally acknowledged that they pay women players less than men players," said Molly Levinson, spokesperson for the USWNT players.
"USSF must correct this ongoing disparity by reaching an equal pay collective bargaining agreement and resolving the ongoing lawsuit. Letters to fans are not a substitute. It's time to back up a lot of words with some actions."
The USMNT has been supportive of the USWNT's equal pay lawsuit and filed an amicus brief signed by representatives of the men's players' union in July.
It backed up the USWNT's appeal after a judge dismissed the lawsuit.
The USMNT said the USSF "has spent more than three decades treating the women as an afterthought, discriminating against them through inferior wages and working conditions, and forcing the women to struggle for the equal pay and fair treatment they deserve."
This pattern, the brief continued, "sends a corrosive public message to women and girls that, even at the highest level, no matter how hard they work or how much they succeed, they can and will be diminished and undervalued by their employers. That is as dispiriting as it is unlawful."
The union for the women's team agreed to a deal with differing benefits, such as health care, pay for players in the National Women's Soccer League and maternity and pregnancy leave and pay. The women's deal also includes injury pay, 401(k) plans and severance.
In their 2019 lawsuit, the women asked for more than $64 million in damages plus $3 million in interest under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner in Los Angeles threw out the pay claim in May 2020, ruling the women rejected a pay-to-play structure similar to the one in the men's agreement and accepted greater base salaries and benefits than the men.
He allowed their allegation of discriminatory working conditions to go to trial. The women asked the 9th Circuit to overrule the trial court's ruling and put their wage claim back on track.
A three-judge panel is likely to hear oral arguments late this year or in early 2022.
FIFA awarded $400 million in prize money for the 32 teams at the 2018 men's World Cup, including $38 million to champion France.
It awarded $30 million for the 24 teams at the 2019 Women's World Cup, including $4 million to the U.S. after the Americans won their second straight title.
FIFA has increased the total to $440 million for the 2022 men's World Cup, and its president, Gianni Infantino, has proposed that FIFA double the women's prize money to $60 million for the 2023 Women's World Cup, in which FIFA has increased the teams to 32.
Most federations frame their payments to players for World Cups on the FIFA amounts.
The USSF is negotiating with the women's union for a collective bargaining agreement to replace the one that expires Dec. 31.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.