By Amy Tennery
NEWYORK (Reuters) – The 1999 U.S. women’s team may defy comparison in the eyes of many soccer fans but, 20 years after their famous World Cup triumph, the challenges they faced are all too familiar with pay and conditions still at the top of the agenda.
Soccer’s world governing body FIFA has boosted the prize money for this year’s women’s World Cup to $30 million but that figure is dwarfed by the roughly $448 million on offer at the men’s tournament in Russia last year.
“For the resources and for the ability that FIFA has to implement that change (more investment), they’re not doing nearly enough,” co-captain Megan Rapinoe said on Friday. “I hope that it’s just so much better (in 20 years) than it is now.”
The success of the 1999 team, playing in front of huge home crowds, turned players like Mia Hamm into household names and inspired a generation of girls and female athletes, even if the promise of widespread gender parity in sports remains elusive.
In March, the U.S. women’s squad sued U.S. Soccer for gender discrimination, saying the sport’s national organising body paid them less than the men’s team despite their superior performance and provided them with sub-standard facilities.
Julie Foudy, a midfielder on the 1999 team, told Reuters earlier this week that she was “frustrated” there was still a need to pursue the dispute.
“It’s exhausting to keep fighting that fight and especially (for them) to do it right before a World Cup,” Foudy said.
All 23 members of this year’s squad spoke to the media ahead of Sunday’s friendly against Mexico, part of a farewell series of friendlies ahead of next month’s tournament in France where they will be defending the title they won in 2015.
“I think it’s pretty clear women in sport have not been treated with the same care and financing that men’s sports has,” said Rapinoe.
Despite the frustration over the progress made by the women’s game since the U.S. beat China 5-4 on penalties to win the 1999 World Cup, that triumph continues to resonate.
Co-captain Alex Morgan, who has drawn comparisons to Hamm, said the 1999 team were very influential in her development.
“The ‘99ers had a huge impact on me and growing my passion to want to play, and being good friends with a lot of them now, I still draw a lot of inspiration from them,” she said.
The U.S. launch their title defence against Thailand on June 11 in Group F which also features Sweden and Chile.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery; Editing by Ken Ferris)