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USWNT world champions vs USMNT whipping boys - The truth behind toxic prize money partition

18:00 GMT+3 08/07/2019
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There are multiple solutions for those in the sport could consider - the only obstacles are greed, pride and a refusal to see women as equals

It's already become the stuff of folklore.

As the U.S. women's national team was celebrating an incredible fourth World Cup title in France after beating Netherlands 2-0 in the final – its heroines making confetti snow angels on the Stade de Lyon, Megan Rapinoe in her lavender-haired glory struggling to contain her three trophies in her arms – chants of "equal pay!" rang out throughout the stadium.

The hymns were mainly directed towards FIFA president Gianni Infantino, whose presence during the trophy presentation also elicited heavy boos from the squad. It's already common knowledge that the USWNT players earn far less than their male counterparts , despite being superior in the sport in every sense of the word.

"Everyone's asking what's next and what we want to come all of this - it's to stop having the conversation about equal pay and are we worth it," Rapinoe said after the game .

"What are we going to do about it? Gianni, what are we going to do about it? Carlos [Cordeiro, U.S. Soccer president], what are we going to do about it? Everyone. It's time to sit down with everyone and really get to work."

The men's best World Cup finish was third place, in 1930. Since then, the women have been named world champions on four occasions.

And, on the same evening that the USWNT was crowned back-to-back World Cup champions in France, the men's team lost its Gold Cup final to Mexico thanks to a late Jonathan dos Santos strike.

In order to be taken seriously, the women had to win the World Cup - again - while the men were applauded for simply avoiding a defeat to Trinidad & Tobago, ranked 92nd in the world by FIFA.

Women constantly need to overachieve and put in 500 per cent of the effort, while men are rewarded for doing the absolute bare minimum.

So forget about equal pay. The U.S women shouldn't be earning the same as the U.S men's team. They should be earning even more.

The USWNT is the most successful nation in the history of their game. The USMNT failed to even qualify for the 2018 finals in Russia. But the financial divide is upside down.

Jill Ellis's squad will be awarded $4 million in prize money by FIFA out of a $30m prize pool, compared to the $38m that France won in 2018 out of a total $400m - despite playing the exact same sport.

The Guardian reported that while the USWNT champions earn $110,000 each for winning the World Cup, the men’s agreement awards the team $9.36m for winning, divided equally across all 23 players, amounting to a $1.11m individual payout.

This creates a dangerous precedent and further enables harmful gender discrimination discourse.

With FIFA refusing to pay World Cup teams the same in prize money, it is emphasizing a confirmed narrative in which they value the men's sport better, undermining the women's game by paying them significantly less.

With U.S. Soccer's handling of the USWNT's bonuses in particular, it reinforces the toxic idea that women must constantly out-perform, out-match and out-dominate their male counterparts on all accounts in order to be considered to be on the same pay grade.

When the USWNT filed a lawsuit against U.S. Soccer in March 2019 for gender discrimination, they'd already won three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals. The USMNT hasn't won an Olympic medal in over a century.

Of course, it is important to consider the differences between the women's and men's game. The National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) and Major League Soccer (MLS) are two different entities.

The NWSL don't have the same financial backing as MLS do. It's far younger and you can't expect the NWSL to pay their female players the money that it doesn't have. But this is where it is important to invest in women's soccer, as NWSL side Portland Thorns has done.

Portland constantly plays to packed crowds and is a model of what a successful top-flight women's team can look like, but only because its owners have marketed their women's side directly alongside their men's team, Portland Timbers.

You cannot just sit back and expect interest in the women's game to increase by doing nothing. You need to take the time out - and money - to care for it, build on it, and watch it grow and become a financially successful entity.

Lyon women's team have been called the best team in the world with their starring roster of players, having won six of their nine Champions League finals.

Star forward Ada Hegerberg has constantly hailed Lyon as the perfect example of how a modern club should be run, telling The Players Tribune: "We need more people in the game with the vision of [Lyon president] Jean-Michel Aulas, who knows that investing in the women’s game is a win-win for the club and the city and the players."

Male players should also do their part in the fight for equal pay, too. A reporter for Deadspin approached every member of the USMNT to comment on the USWNT's fight for wage equality. Not one of them responded.

It's impossible to make strides if men do not do their part do level the playing field. Since 2007, the England men's team has been donating their international wages to different charities , raising over £5m in just over 11 years.

The England side that finished in fourth place during the 2018 World Cup donated all of its earnings to charities such as The Bobby Moore Fund for Cancer Research UK and UNICEF.

Why don't senior USMNT players - all of whom are rich in comparative terms - take a stand and show their support for their female counterparts by splitting their bonuses with the USWNT?

The USWNT is one of the best-invested teams in the world, but the dominance is at risk on both an international and club level.

Ellis's side were the only non-European team participating in the 2019 World Cup quarter-final. It is only a matter of time until Europe catches up with heavy investment - the likes of the Netherlands and England are already reaping the rewards.

This year, according to UEFA , national associations invested €123m in their women’s divisions – and the number of active professional women players on the continent increased 50% since 2017. And it's paid off.

The Dutch football federation only invested in a women's league in 2007 and steep progress has already been made.

Netherlands are known for frequently punching above their weight internationally despite being a small nation, and developing their talents at youth level helped grow its women's side. It all starts domestically.

So what can U.S. Soccer do? The NWSL is owned by the teams but are under a management contract with their governing body, but a major restructure and rehaul of how the league is run is in order.

MLS is self-sufficient, while U.S. Soccer subsidises the NWSL. Money from MLS should be re-distributed across both leagues, and U.S. Soccer should have a greater role in wage distribution across their men's and women's teams.

Infantino had discussed doubling the prize money for both men's and women's World Cup winners, but that will only increase the gap. That's not where the problem lies.

The money is already there – it just needs redistributing more evenly, and fairly. If doubled, the next Women's World Cup winners will take home $60m – while the men's will have their $400m from Russia doubled to $800m.

Combine the two evenly so that each World Cup-winning side takes home $430m each - and watch the women's sport blossom.

And it's not as if it's impossible to pay men and women athletes equally. Since 2007, Wimbledon singles players – male and female – have been paid equally .

"It's about time that women do get paid more," Allie Long told reporters. "I think that the USWNT has been fighting for that on the field and off the field for a couple of years, so we’re proud hearing that and just knowing that we have so much support behind us.

"We just hope that the rest of the women, every female in the stadium, every female watching back home, they know that one day there will be equal pay. I truly believe that."

The USWNT is U.S. Soccer's most prized asset. It's time for them to be shown their worth and their value.