United States Soccer Federation president Cindy Parlow Cone has told ESPN that achieving equal pay for the men's and women's national teams has made "a dark cloud that was hanging over all of our heads move along."
Parlow Cone said last year that the USSF were "committed to equal pay" for national team players but added that the USSF couldn't take on players' financial demands because of the disparity in the distribution of FIFA prize money.
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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 federation previously based bonuses on payments from FIFA, which earmarked $400 million for the 2018 men's tournament, including $38 million to champion France, in contrast with $30 million for the 2019 women's tournament, including $4 million to the champion United States.
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 number of teams to 32.
After she was reelected as president in March, Parlow Cone's goal was achieved two months later, as the men's and women's national teams' unions ratified new collective bargaining agreements with U.S. Soccer, including an equal split of World Cup bonuses.
In the new contracts, the unions agreed to pool FIFA's payments for the men's World Cup later this year and next year's Women's World Cup, as well as for the 2026 and 2027 tournaments. The USSF will pool the FIFA funds, taking 10% off the top and then splitting the rest equally among 46 players -- 23 players on the roster of each team. For the 2026-27 cycle, the USSF's cut increases to 20% before the split.
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 an interview with ESPN's Fútbol Americas, Parlow Cone said: "Not only getting equal pay with the CBAs but solving the litigation has made this dark cloud that was hanging over all of our heads move along.
"It affected everything we did at the federation, so now to have a reset with our national team players on the men and women's side, to move forward together, to actually be aligned with each other and hoping each other succeed is really great.
"It has allowed me to sleep a little bit more at night, which I'm also appreciative for."
As part of the settlement, players will split $22 million, about one-third of what they had sought in damages. The USSF also agreed to establish a fund with $2 million to benefit the players in their post-soccer careers and charitable efforts aimed at growing the sport for women.
Equal pay has been resolved, but issues remain in the U.S. women's game. Parlow Cone said investigations into abuse in the National Women's Soccer League are ongoing.
Paul Riley was fired by North Carolina Courage last year after he was accused of sexual and verbal abuse, inappropriate behavior and anti-gay language. Parlow Cone said she was "heartbroken" by the allegations. Former acting attorney general Sally Yates is running the investigation.
"My personality when I heard that is tell me what to change right now, I want to take action right now, but I think through this investigation we're really going to learn what action we actually need to take," Parlow Cone said.
"What is going to be impactful changes that we as a federation need to change and what do we need to create in order for players to feel safe to report and to increase recording as well.
"I'm looking forward to the report; I don't have the timeline, I'm hoping sometime in the next couple of months, but I don't have the exact timeline."
But Parlow Cone is optimistic of a brighter future for the U.S. game, with an emphasis on diversity and opening routes for as many people as possible to access the sport from a young age.
"FIFA hasn't opened up the bidding yet for either World Cup, so we are keeping our options open right now; we will bid for either the '27 or '31 World Cup," Parlow Cone said.
"It's huge, we saw what the '99 World Cup did for us here, now I think women's soccer and women's sports in general are a whole new level with a full new platform, and the investment in our game is at a level we've never seen before. I think hosting a World Cup here, we'll see exponential growth in our game.
"World Cup 2026 is going to be a moment like no other in this country as we host the World Cup alongside Canada and Mexico.
"We've got to make sure that we do everything we can in the leadup, during the World Cup and post-World Cup to make sure we capitalize on this momentum and make sure that we are growing participation, growing investment in our game, growing fandom in all the different ways."
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.