The world champions are on strike.
Five months after winning the Women’s World Cup and earning unprecedented acclaim across the country, the U.S. women’s national soccer team is embroiled in an increasingly bitter contract dispute with U.S. Soccer.
Matters came to a head Wednesday when co-captains Julie Foudy and Carla Overbeck, along with the rest of the 20 players on the team, told the federation they will not travel to Australia as planned on Jan. 2.
The U.S. team was to have taken part in the four-nation Australia Cup tournament, the first step in its preparation for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.
Now, instead of sending the defending gold medalists, U.S. Soccer will send a makeshift team, probably a combination of players from the Under-21 team and veterans who were not on the World Cup team.
Players say the dispute is as much about respect as about money.
“In our efforts to promote women’s soccer throughout the country over the past decade, we feel we have behaved professionally and therefore deserve the same respect and communication from U.S. Soccer,” Overbeck said in a prepared statement. “They have essentially ignored our successes over the past three years--including a World Cup win and an Olympic gold medal--and are now asking us to do the same.”
The contract between the federation and national team players expired six months ago and was to have been renegotiated after the Women’s World Cup.
“It’s not just about money,” John B. Langel, a Philadelphia-based attorney who represents the women’s national team players, said Wednesday. “It’s about U.S. Soccer’s initial unwillingness to meet in September, October and November [to work out a new contract].
“It’s about U.S. Soccer’s unwillingness to present any proposals and, just at the last minute, to suggest that the women [continue to] play under a contract that was negotiated in 1996.”
Jim Moorhouse, a spokesman for U.S. Soccer, said Wednesday the federation’s position is that ‘the negotiations are ongoing” and that not having the veterans available for the Australia Cup can even be seen in a positive light.
“We will use this trip to Australia as an opportunity to get the next generation of players some valuable playing experience,” he said.
The U.S. team also went on strike and refused to travel to Brazil before the 1996 Olympic Games. That stance eventually resulted in the current contract being signed.
Langel said he had a conference call with 16 of the 20 players Tuesday night and that they were adamant about not going to Australia.
On Wednesday, Langel notified U.S. Soccer that the players were rejecting the federation’s suggestion that they continue playing under the expired contract, which pays them $3,150 a month, excluding bonuses.
They are asking for $5,000 a month, plus $2,000 for each player who competes in the four games against the Czech Republic, Sweden and Australia in January and Norway in February.
“We’re not talking about a lot of money,” Langel said.
He said if the impasse continues it might affect the scheduled high-profile match Feb. 6 against former world champion Norway in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“The real issue at hand here is that of fairness,” Mia Hamm said. “We are professionals. We have lives--some of us with families. We had hoped that U.S. Soccer would have recognized those facts, along with our accomplishments as a team.”
Langel and the team’s veteran players met with U.S. Soccer officials, including Alan Rothenberg, in Anaheim on Dec. 9, at which time, Langel said, the federation assured the players that a new proposal would be forthcoming.
It never came.
“You can imagine the frustration and disappointment we feel as a team,” Foudy said.
Langel said the women believe they should be on an equal footing with the men’s national team, in salary and respect.
“Their [the federation’s] point always has been that the men get paid more because FIFA pays more for the men to go play tournaments,” Langel said. “OK, that’s a fact.
“Our point now is that the women have had tremendous success on the world stage, it affects revenues [to the federation] in terms of attendance and sponsors. So we’re not asking for any more than they give the men--[only that they] take all the money, put it in a pot and share it equally.”