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Women's boycott: behind the pay dispute
January 10th, 2000 12AM
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Impasse develops, players ask for $18,000 for two months and Federation offers $6,300

For the second time in four years, the U.S. women's national team is embroiled in a contract dispute with U.S. Soccer.

As a result of the players' decision not play with a new contract, the United States is sending a team of young players to Australia for the Australia Cup Jan. 7-13.

Here are answers to some key questions surrounding the dispute:

How do you characterize the current dispute ù a strike or boycott?

All 20 players from the U.S. Women's World Cup squad, who have been without a long-term contract since last July, rejected U.S. Soccer's temporary contract offer made last month.

And unlike in 1995, when nine U.S. players said they were locked out by the Federation during a contract dispute just months before the 1996 Olympics, the women boycotted the national team's trip to the Australia Cup.

"It's not a boycott or a strike," U.S. Soccer secretary general Hank Steinbrecher said. "They're currently unemployed. ... They chose not to play for their country."

Ironically, Lorrie Fair recently gave up her North Carolina scholarship so she could turn pro with the national team. She's not earning anything right now.

What is U.S. Soccer offering and what do the players want?

Last fall, the women signed a series of short-term contracts to play in friendlies for U.S. Soccer. The Federation and the players had hoped to sign another short-term contract to get them through January and February, when they would try to hammer out another long-term agreement that would run through at least the Olympics.

But the two sides were far apart on salary figures for the short-term deal when they negotiated in mid-December.

U.S. Soccer offered to pay players under the terms of their old contract, which meant $6,300 total per player with no per-game bonuses for two months.

The Federation also offered to retroactively pay the players the difference between the temporary deal and whatever a new long-term contract would eventually stipulate.

The players countered with a proposal of $18,000 total per player for two months, or $5,000 per month and a $2,000 bonus per game for four games (including a February friendly against Norway in Florida). When the Federation replied with the same $6,300 offer, the players balked.

"They have essentially ignored our successes over the past three years ù including a World Cup win and an Olympic gold medal ù and are now asking us to do the same," U.S. co-captain Carla Overbeck said.

"It was a fair, equitable and just offer," responded Steinbrecher.

The players contend that they wanted to redo their contract as early as September and that the Federation dragged its feet before it was ready to deal in early December.

"You can imagine the frustration and disappointment we feel as a team," U.S. co-captain Julie Foudy said. "It was important to all of us to meet right after the World Cup to reach a new agreement in order that we could focus exclusively on our Olympic training beginning in January 2000. U.S. Soccer refused to listen and have now asked us to accept their last-minute proposal."

What money has U.S. Soccer generated from the women's game?

The players' stance is that they deserve a raise, even in a short-term deal, for meeting the Federation's expectations of winning on the field and promoting the women's game off it.

U.S. Soccer says simply that the money isn't there to compensate the women mostly because the women's national team is not a profitable venture. For the Australia Cup, the Australians provide little other than transportation within the country. There is no prize money.

The women traditionally lose money for U.S. Soccer, which points out that it can pay higher salaries and bonuses to the U.S. men in part because FIFA pays countries substantial sums for their participation in the men's World Cup. FIFA does not pay countries for playing in the Women's World Cup.

None of the money from the 1999 Women's World Cup surplus, around $2 million, goes to U.S. Soccer. The money goes to the U.S. Soccer Foundation, which doles out grants to deserving organizations. The women could conceivably apply for a grant from the Foundation.

What about money from Nike's long-term commitment to U.S. Soccer?

"We're not going to mortgage our future for one team," Steinbrecher said. "We have the men's team, the U-17s, U-18s and all the other teams we have to put on the field. Some people think we just have the women's team.

"In the absence of a weekly league, they look to us for a weekly paycheck," Steinbrecher said of the women. "We have prepared that team very well and invested very heavily in them, more so than any team in the world. But that's not a tenable position for a not-for-profit organization like the Federation."

U.S. Soccer spent $3.1 million on the women's program in 1999. Steinbrecher anticipates spending close to that sum in 2000.

Who are the chief negotiators in the dispute?

U.S. Soccer and John Langel, the attorney for the players, were scheduled to reopen contract negotiations on Jan. 6 in Philadelphia. Former U.S. Soccer president Alan Rothenberg is the Federation's lead negotiator and will join U.S. Soccer counsel John Collins in the contract talks.

How does the pay the players receive compare with what they made in the past and that of players in other countries?

In 1991, players each earned $1,000 a month in salary from the Federation. In 1994, they earned $1,500 per month. In 1995, they earned about $2,000 per month. Their '96 contract paid them a salary that increased each year and peaked at $3,150 per month in '99. The contract included escalating performance bonuses for winning friendlies and major tournaments.

That contract also gave the players more benefits. For the first time, they were able to earn roster bonuses, severance pay and paid pregnancy leave. For the first time, their contract also mandated that U.S. Soccer put all the eligible players under contract.

No other players in the world earn the money the U.S. players earn from playing soccer.

For example, other than room and board, Australia's players each earn just $109 per month.

What has been the reaction to the dispute?

U.S. Soccer says it's not concerned that public sentiment ù ranging from the mainstream media to the Women's Sports Foundation ù is on the side of the players in the dispute.

"It's a very vogue thing to be on the side of the women on this," Steinbrecher said. "We're going to do what we think is best regardless of what the media has to say or uninformed people have to say."

by Soccer America associate editor Dean Caparaz



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