US Women's Soccer Team Heads to Federal Court Over Potential Strike Ahead of 2016 Olympics

Without an agreement, soccer's top women's team may not take to the pitch in Rio

With the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio just months away, the World Cup-winning U.S. Women’s Soccer team is looking into the possibility of a strike as they fight for equal pay.

The players’ union, which says the women’s team isn’t being paid as much as the U.S. men’s team, took the Chicago-based U.S. Soccer Federation to federal court Thursday to determine whether or not a strike is legal.

“This case is about a very narrow issue,” said anti-trust attorney Jeffery Kessler. “Whether the women have the right to strike or not. And we will find out.”

There’s concern, however, that the potential strike could mean the women’s team may not play in the Summer Games.

“If this case continues, if the dispute continues, then there is a probability that the greatest women’s soccer team in the world will not be participating in the Olympics in Brazil,” said Lester Munson, a legal affairs writer for ESPN.

U.S. Soccer maintains that the players union is still covered by a “no-strike” clause under its current memorandum of understanding. The union says that clause expired with its old contract.

On their way out of court today, the federation declined to comment on pending litigation, but in the past has said: ”We remain committed to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the [Players Association], to take effect when the current one expires at the end of this year." 

In a separate lawsuit, five of the team’s top players claim they are the victims of wage discrimination.

“We have proven our worth over the years, you know, just coming off a World Cup win,” star midfielder Carli Lloyd said. “The pay disparity between the men and the women is just too large.”

Still, the union says it, too, is open to negotiation.

“We have to reserve our rights to do whatever we have to do to achieve equal pay, but it would be great if the Soccer Federation today came to the negotiating table,” said Richard Nichols with the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association. “We would really like to be able to get a deal done before the Olympics so that we don’t have to contemplate any other action.”

But the real threat remains that without an agreement, soccer’s top women’s team may not take to the pitch in Rio.

“This all is on the soccer side of the pitch,” said Kessler, the anti-trust attorney. “They should negotiate a fair agreement with these proud women before the Olympics. And no one even had to talk about the issue. That is what we hope to achieve.”

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