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The real reason why two of the world’s biggest soccer stars won’t be playing in the World Cup

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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You won’t see Ada Hegerberg or Hope Solo at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup because they are taking a powerful stance on the crucial issue of equal pay. This is why that matters. 

For years, Hope Solo has been a vocal and outspoken critic of the gender pay gap in sport.

Dubbed one of the best goalkeepers women’s soccer (or football, as it is known in the UK) has ever seen, Solo was instrumental in powering the American team to two gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. And in 2015, her impressive athleticism and razor-sharp reflexes helped spur the women’s team to their first World Cup victory since 1991 – in a game that went on to become the most-watched soccer match on television in US history.

With 202 international appearances for the US, Solo holds the record for the most games played at a global level by an American goalkeeper. She also holds the record for most wins in a season (26), longest undefeated streak (55) and most wins (153). 

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But it’s been almost three years since Solo has played for the national women’s side. She was suspended in 2016 after the Rio Olympics for calling the Swedish team “cowards”, and has refused to return to the team until US soccer ends the appalling gender pay gap between the men’s and the women’s teams. 

Hope Solo defending against the Japanese team in the 2015 World Cup

“If Jill [Ellis, women’s soccer coach] came to me today… and said ‘Hope, we need a goalkeeper’ – which they do – ‘can you come back and help us win the World Cup’,” Solo has said, “I’d say to her ‘Are you guys abiding by federal law?’ 

“That’s the only question I have to ask back and see what the answer is. We all know that they are not abiding by federal law, so I can not stand for that at this point.”

In a separate interview with CNN, Solo added: “I will not stand for a federation that doesn’t pay their women equally to the men. And until they abide by federal law you will not see me back on the field with US Soccer.” 

Ada Hegerberg of Norway – who was recently named the first female recipient of the prestigious Ballon d’Or – won’t be playing in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup for the same reason. Speaking to ESPN, the soccer star said that she won’t don the colours of her country until its football federation pledges to pay female players on the same level as the men. 

“I demand a lot of things from myself, but then I also demand that everything should be in place around me so that we can succeed,” Hegerberg explained to ESPN

She continued: “I was trying to make an impact [on Norway] for a lot of years, and I could see that in this system, in the federation, it didn’t fit me at all. I feel like I was placed in a system where I didn’t have a voice. I felt this weight on my shoulders more and more: This isn’t working. When you’re quite sure about yourself and the values and where you want to go, it’s easy to make difficult choices. For me at that point, being able not to lose myself and not to lose what I believe in, I had to take that choice. I couldn’t go any other way. And as soon as I did it, it was like [exhales], I could be myself again. I could perform on the highest level again.” 

Still, she said that she felt “almost… a depression” after telling Norway that she would not play for them until they offered pay parity between their male and female teams. 

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“It was such a hard thing to do. It can’t be easy when a woman stands and tries to be critical in a positive way,” Hegerberg added. 

“For me, it was really important that [the federation] knew what I was talking about, point by point. When the media asked me what I told the federation, I said, that’s between me and them so they can work on it. But it doesn’t seem like they took it in the way they should have. Ever since, I just put that behind me and try to perform at the highest level with Lyon.” 

Hope Solo with the US women’s team after winning the 2015 World Cup

Instead of joining her countrywomen on the pitch in France, Hegerberg will be watching the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup from her home in Norway. It’s a well-earned vacation for the soccer star, who recently helped her club Lyon land their fourth consecutive Champion’s League cup courtesy of a thrilling hat trick in the first 20 minutes of the grand final. 

And what about Solo? If the American athlete isn’t playing for the US at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, then who is? Replacing her as goalkeeper for the US women’s side is Alyssa Naeher, a formidable player in her own right. 

“She’s a terrific goalkeeper and probably top 10 in the world,” soccer broadcaster JP Dellacamera has said. “But it’s her first major tournament. All eyes will be on her.” 

Currently, the US Soccer Federation is battling a lawsuit filed on 8 March – International Women’s Day – by the world champion US women’s side demanding that they receive fair payment for their work. 

According to the lawsuit, some of the female players receive just 38% of what the men’s players receive in payment, despite competing in more games and bringing in more revenue for the organisation than their male counterparts. The women’s team have four Olympic golds and three World Cups to their name. The men’s team have two Olympic gold medals and their best World Cup result is third place, back in 1930.

Hope Solo on the soccer pitch

The 2019 lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation is far from the first filed against the organisation demanding an end to the egregious gender pay gap. 

In April 2016, Solo was one of five female soccer players who served US Soccer with an official complaint regarding their wages. According to the complaint, the women’s team generated $20 million in revenue while the men’s team not only didn’t generate any revenue but actively lost $2 million for the organising body. And yet the female players were not being fairly compensated for their work in comparison to the male players. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, the women’s A team was paid the same amount as the men’s B team.

“I want to go out and perform at the highest level and be intense and feel like a professional athlete,” Solo told Vox at the time. “But oftentimes now, in my 30s, I go out onto the field and go ‘What the hell am I doing here?’” 

She continued: “I was always the asshole. These were my own teammates. [They told me] ‘Hope just be happy we’re getting paid.’ […] I get comments all the time just not believing the pay gap is real. Just, you know, that women accept lower-paying jobs. It’s our fault as a women’s national team because we accepted a lower contract… It’s my obligation to build soccer in America for the young girls that come after me.” 

Hope Solo

The complaint is still ongoing, as is a subsequent 2018 lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation for violating the Equal Pay Act. And it is this lawsuit that prevents Solo from rejoining the US national team, she says. Until the US Soccer Federation addresses its gender pay gap, Solo won’t play the sport at a national level. 

“I don’t intend to settle for anything short of what is equal,” Solo told Fortune. “When you file for equal pay, you don’t want to settle anything less because this is law. This is American law. It was passed 60 years ago, but who is going to enforce it? We have to enforce it ourselves.” 

She continued: “I was a thorn in my employer’s side for about 20 years. You can’t just ask nicely for somebody to give up power. You have to take it. You have to take what is rightfully yours.” 

Images: Getty

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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