US Soccer Federation sues Women’s National Team

This February, the US Soccer Federation (USSF) sued the US Women’s National Team Player Association in fear that they will go on strike and miss the 2016 Olympics over a disagreement about their current collective bargaining agreement (CBA). The lawsuit was filed in a federal court in Chicago by the USSF, which hopes that the ruling will reaffirm the validity of the current CBA until the end of 2016 as agreed upon during 2013 negotiations. It is also thought that the USSF sued the Players Association to possibly push for renewed negotiations before the Olympics begin.

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The original CBA was made in 2005, and despite failed negotiations to renew the deal in 2013, the USSF and the US Women’s National Team (USWNT) Player Association did agree to a “memorandum of understanding.” The understanding extended the 2005 CBA, which includes a clause preventing any strikes and missing of international games, until the end of 2016.

However, Richard Nichols, the executive director of the USWNT Player Association, reportedly didn’t believe there was an official agreement in place, which means that the USWNT could go on strike if a new agreement wasn’t reached by February 24. This made the USSF feel that the Player Association was threatening to strike, resulting in the lawsuit. Nichols denied these allegations, stating “there were no threats issued ever by me or anybody else on our legal team with regards to [a strike]” and that the players only “reserved their legal rights.” Most view the move by the USSF as dramatic response to a misinterpretation of Nichols’s words, which were aimed at expressing the players’ desire for renewed dialogue.

The USSF also might have sued the USWNT in order to push for new CBA negotiations, without which they feel it would “jeopardize the team’s participation in any competitions this year, including the 2016 Olympic Games.” Richard Nichols responded by sayingthe bottom line is we, notwithstanding their court activities, are quite confident that we’re going to be able to come to an agreement.” Neither side seems very worried about the lawsuit and sees this as an impetus to negotiate a concrete, undisputed CBA.

And the lack of panic over the situation is justified. The USWNT won their third World Cup last year in Canada after a commanding performance throughout the tournament and a thrilling 5-2 victory over Japan in the final. What is widely regarded as the best ever women’s international team has already qualified for the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro and secured the best seed from CONCACAF in the tournament, beating rivals Puerto Rico 10-0 in the process.

This team is on the verge of a dynasty, and aren’t about to risk their reputation and high likelihood of success at the Olympics over protesting to get a new CBA signed. US women’s soccer, domestically and internationally, is at an all-time high in popularity because of the success of the international team, and their continued success is growing the sport that they love. And let’s not forget, they are paid handsomely and gain even more sponsorship money when they are more popular and successful.

There aren’t any pressing conflicts that need to be urgently addressed through a new CBA anyways. While it is important to establish the conditions under which the “employees” are willing to work for the “employers” and to maintain a good relationship between the two parties through renewing the CBA, issues can be resolved without legal provisions and agreements.

Take this last World Cup, for example. FIFA made the women play on artificial turf, leading to multiple injuries (especially skinned knees from sliding). The USSF also scheduled some international friendly matches on turf, further angering the players. Obviously, the USWNT did not protest during the World Cup, but because of their synchronized, unified voice (and partially their success in the competition) they were able to convince the USSF not to schedule any more games on turf in the future and to cancel a friendly due to be played on turf in Hawaii.

The next CBA could include a clause against playing on turf, but the CBA was not needed to resolve this critical, expansive issue regarding the health of the players and won’t be needed for smaller issues in the future.

The biggest issue the CBA could possibly address is wages. The USSF helps to pay the salaries of the biggest stars of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) like Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan. Any strike over wages against the USSF would harm US domestic soccer as the most popular players wouldn’t play, but a balanced CBA would prevent what happened during the NBA lockout and what almost happened during the last MLS season before a CBA was reached. A modern CBA, like that of the new MLS CBA, has to establish a form of free agency and fair wages for even the lowest paid players.

Morgan Brian, Carli Lloyd, and Alex Morgan

Morgan Brian, Carli Lloyd, and Alex Morgan

The extent to which the USSF has taken the issue of striking is laughable. A new CBA should be negotiated for the sake of maintaining a good relationship between the USWNT and the USSF if nothing else, but suing the team based on a misinterpreted statement serves the exact opposite goal.

It is petty of the Federation to sue the team over an extremely unlikely possibility of a strike given that the USWNT has won the last two Olympic gold medals and will want to continue their undisputed dominance with a third. No reasonable athlete would give up on representing their country and continuing a dynasty because of not renewing a CBA that wouldn’t address any pressing disagreements.

All the lawsuit will do is make future negotiations more hostile and diminish the likelihood of agreement on what should be included in the CBA – if I were a player and this happened to my team, I would want as many protections as possible, including the right not to be sued by the organization that I work for.

This lawsuit is just another example of the unneeded, petulant interference in soccer that does nothing but create more discord between players and the organizations that represent them.

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