The Women's World Cup champions are calling out their own federation.
Five leading stars of the United States women's national team announced Thursday on NBC's "Today" show that they have filed a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against U.S. Soccer, claiming wage discrimination relative to the men's national team.
"I think the timing is right," co-captain and reigning world player of the year Carli Lloyd told Matt Lauer on the show. "I think that we've proven our worth over the years. Just coming off of a [2015 Women's] World Cup win, the pay disparity between the men and women is just too large. And we want to continue to fight."
The four other players in the filing, which requests an investigation into U.S. Soccer, are goalkeeper Hope Solo, striker Alex Morgan, playmaker Megan Rapinoe and central defender and co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn.
They believe that the women's national team, which enjoys a national popularity that often exceeds the men's in the mainstream, drives far more revenue to the U.S. Soccer Federation than they are compensated for. The trouble is, as laid out in a recent investigation by the New York Daily News, the financial constructions that channel those incomes are so tousled that there's no telling what money is brought in by the women and how much of it by the men. The women say they have been stonewalled by the federation in their attempts to see the financial statements for themselves.
The players point to the vast disparity in performance bonuses. Indeed, the men's team received more – a shared $2.5 million just for reaching the World Cup – than the women did for winning the entire thing ($1.8 million). A similar gap exists in all other bonuses as well – the men sometimes collect 10 times more for winning a friendly than the women do. The matter, however, is more complex than that. The women, unlike the men, also draw a full-time salary from the federation of up to $72,000, not including up to hundreds of thousands in bonuses they typically collect, a baseline guarantee the men don't enjoy. They are also compensated by the federation for participating in the National Women's Soccer League.
But the men's top earners tend to exceed the women's most years. And while U.S. Soccer deserves credit for investing heavily in the women's program for many years when it was a loss leader, the women argue that they are now being short-changed.
"We have been quite patient over the years with the belief that the Federation would do the right thing and compensate us fairly," Lloyd said in a statement released to The New York Times.
"The numbers speak for themselves," Solo added. "We are the best in the world, have three World Cup championships, four Olympic championships, and the USMNT get paid more to just show up than we get paid to win major championships."
To head off "But do the women bring in equal revenues?" bros: Yes. In FY2017 USWNT will pull in $8M more than USMNT: pic.twitter.com/Iof0ZCLCOb— Danny Page (@DannyPage) March 31, 2016
The action comes just months before the women will attempt to win a fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro. And it further escalates the standoff with U.S. Soccer over their working conditions. In December, the women refused to play in one of the friendlies scheduled in a nationwide tour to celebrate the World Cup victory. They argued that the field in Hawaii was subpar, the day after Rapinoe tore her ACL on a poor practice field. U.S. Soccer acknowledged its mistake and apologized.
But within a few months, the two sides had filed a suit and counter-suit against each other over the players' right to strike. The players and the federation are hashing out a new collective bargaining agreement after the last one expired in 2012. While the federation argues that the memorandum of understanding both parties have been working under since then conserves the no-strike clause from the original CBA, the players counter that it does not, because it isn't specified. When the players, through their representative, wouldn't rule out a strike, U.S. Soccer sued to pre-empt one and the players counter-sued.
This entire debate rests on a larger question over women's sports: if women generate less money than men, are they entitled to the same pay for the same work? FIFA pays out a good deal more prize money for the men's World Cup than it does for the women's, arguing that the disparity in revenue is vast. Again, the Daily News pointed out that this was presently impossible to verify, and the Women's World Cup drew enormous television ratings stateside, yet FIFA awards a Women's World Cup-winning team $2 million. When Germany won the men's World Cup in 2014, it collected $35 million.
The women’s national team posits that this entire argument is moot.
"The women have without dispute vastly outperformed the men," their attorney Jeffrey Kessler told the Times, "not just on the playing field but economically for the USSF. The women have generated all the money in comparison with the men."
They just want their fair share. If their complaint is successful, they could be awarded millions in back pay. Meanwhile, U.S. Soccer points to its history of funding the women's game and said through a spokesman that it was "disappointed."
"These women are very disappointed in U.S. soccer,'' Kessler countered to Lauer. "When they asked for the same treatment as the men, they were told it was irrational. Now, that might be a good answer in 1816. It's not acceptable answer in 2016."
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.