By Christian Radnedge
LYON, France (Reuters) – The run to the World Cup final by the United States women’s team has boosted their campaign for equal pay, but it should not have to be the responsibility of the players to force through change, former international Kristine Lilly said this week.
Lilly, a pioneer of women’s soccer who won two world titles and two Olympic golds in a 23-year playing career, was part of the 1999 World Cup winning side on home soil which raised the profile of the women’s game in the U.S.
The American team has continued to dominate, going for a record-extending fourth World Cup in Sunday’s final against the Netherlands.
However, simmering in the background has been a lawsuit brought by the players against the U.S. Soccer Federation for being paid less than their male counterparts, despite superior performances.
All 28 members of the defending World Cup squad were named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit against U.S. Soccer filed in March.
And Lilly told Reuters on the fringes of an equality conference in Lyon that their successful run to the final of the tournament in France had led to positive discussion on the subject.
“I think the World Cup brings another level of attention,” Lilly said.
“We’ve made change on the field and also tried to make change off the field and continue that growth of support for the women’s game,” she said.
“And they see it as an opportunity to bring up conversation and make a difference and have this platform to not only get what they are asking for but also just let them know that ‘hey, we’re not going to stand for it anymore. We want some more proactive movements.’
“(But) We don’t want the players to have to say to make a change, we want people to start the change without that.”
The lawsuit also outlines years of institutionalised gender discrimination, claiming travel conditions, medical personnel, promotion of games and training are less favourable for female players than for their male counterparts.
A Wall Street Journal report last month said that U.S. Soccer had agreed to participate in mediation when the World Cup was over.
Lilly, who is the most capped footballer in history male or female with 352, added that, had there been more women in administrative positions, the dispute might never have arisen. U.S. Soccer has never had a female president.
“I think it’s about educating and changing views sometimes. I think our society has grown up so male dominant but that’s not the way it is anymore.”
Such is the dominance of the U.S. women’s team they have even been accused of arrogance, particularly for their exuberance when scoring 13 goals against Thailand in their opening game or even for forward Alex Morgan’s teacup goal celebration in the semi-final against England.
But however much they looked to be indulging themselves on the pitch, Lilly maintained that the American players were working extremely hard off it. She would know, having played in five editions of the World Cup.
“When I look back at World Cups it was never easy. So people say the U.S. is always there, but it’s never an easy process,” said the 47-year-old former midfielder, who scored 130 goals for the national team.
“The training they’re doing constantly to be the best is hard work. This World Cup, the quarters against France, the semis against England, those were two great games.
“But the U.S. is one of the strongest teams, not only the 11 but some players coming off the bench really make an impact. The game with Holland will be good, but I think Holland has a lot to handle.”
(Reporting by Christian Radnedge; editing by Clare Lovell)