The goalkeeper won’t be returning to the American soccer team for a very important reason.
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).
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.
“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.”
So if Solo 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 athlete 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.
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.”
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.”