(Reuters) – U.S. women’s national soccer team players said their focus will be on the field when they start their World Cup title defence in Paris next week despite their high-profile lawsuit against their soccer federation.
The players sued the federation in March with allegations of gender discrimination and complaints about lower wages and unfavourable working conditions.
The lawsuit came as a surprise given it was filed three months before the start of the World Cup, which kicked off in Paris on Friday. The United States take on Thailand in their first match on Tuesday.
“I think that to be on the U.S. Women’s National Team is to have distractions all the time,” midfielder Megan Rapinoe told Reuters in a recent interview.
“We’re kind of used to it to be honest. We can hold multiple tasks in our hands at the same time.
“Nobody understands better the importance and the power of winning than this team so anything that would get in the way of that will definitely be brushed aside.”
Defender Becky Sauerbrunn said that far from being a distraction, the lawsuit serves as a motivator for the team, who are favourites to win the tournament.
“If we are successful at the World Cup then we’ve got more eyes on us, more attention,” she said.
“Obviously, we want to do well for many reasons but we also feel that if we are successful that also will help further our fight.”
Asked about managing the locker-room as both a team representative and its head coach amid the lawsuit, Jill Ellis said the group was unified.
“I’m really fortunate to have an incredibly professional group of women,” she said.
“There is no divide, it’s very much a cohesive unit.
“We’re working together and making this work. I understand, I’m a woman, I have a young daughter, I understand a lot of the bigger social issues out there but I also know right now the job is to get the team focused,” she said.
“They are focused on one thing and that’s our first game and going after this tournament.”
(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Additional reporting by Amy Tennery, editing by Ed Osmond)