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The U.S. women's soccer team will now be paid as much as the men's team

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

U.S. Soccer is celebrating what it calls a historic moment for the sport. The federation announced today an agreement that will provide equal pay for the highly decorated women's national team, something the women have worked toward in recent years. Starting next month, the men and women's teams will be paid the same for all competitions, including the World Cup. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: The women's quest for equal pay has been mired in legal disputes and often bitter words between players and the U.S. Soccer Federation. But today, the talk was about unity and triumph. Cindy Parlow Cone is the president of U.S. Soccer.

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CINDY PARLOW CONE: I'm really proud of what we've achieved together.

GOLDMAN: What they - U.S. Soccer and the unions for the men's and women's national teams - achieved is this - collective bargaining agreements guaranteeing equal pay through identical economic terms. Appearance fees and bonuses for all games and competitions will be the same. There'll be a 50-50 split of broadcast, sponsorship and ticket revenue and equal working conditions, including travel, accommodations and playing venues.

Perhaps most significantly, a first-of-its-kind provision in global soccer to pool and share World Cup prize money. That's long been an obstacle to equal pay since FIFA, soccer's international governing body, has paid much less in bonuses for the Women's World Cup. At the last women's event, the teams split $30 million in total prize money. At this year's men's World Cup in Qatar, the teams will divvy up between 400 and 450 million.

U.S. Soccer always said its hands were tied because it couldn't control how much money FIFA allotted for each tournament. And that's where Parlow Cone says the U.S. men's team came up big.

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PARLOW CONE: Because this advancement doesn't happen without the men championing this.

GOLDMAN: The men essentially agreed to give up money so the women - World Cup winners in 2015 and 2019 - could get more. On a video conference this afternoon, men's team player Walker Zimmerman said the men ultimately realized there wasn't going to be a way forward to an overall deal without equal World Cup prize money.

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WALKER ZIMMERMAN: Sure, there was a potential chance of making less money, but we also believe so much in the women's team. We believe in the whole premise of equal pay. And ultimately, that was a big driving force for us - was to do something historic and try and do this together.

GOLDMAN: Parlow Cone says the time was ripe for collaboration between U.S. soccer and both national teams. The men's labor contract was being hashed out, and the women were coming up for renewal. The result left Parlow Cone beaming.

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PARLOW CONE: You know, I have been in this for over 20 years, fighting for equal pay.

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GOLDMAN: Parlow Cone was a member of the fabled U.S. women's team that won the 1999 World Cup in a penalty shootout. That team was dubbed the 99ers.

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PARLOW CONE: The 99ers team has a text stream and just the messages coming in from my teammates who started this fight, who I learned from - and it's just such a proud moment to be a leader in this, to be the first to do it.

GOLDMAN: She and others hope it spreads throughout world soccer, throughout sport. Better if not equal pay is an issue for many other female professional athletes. WNBA star Brittney Griner's ongoing detention in Russia has prompted discussions of how players in that league are paid. For now, U.S. Soccer is celebrating a breakthrough, one that Parlow Cone hopes will bring more investment and a chance to benefit the sport from the elite level to its grassroots.

Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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