Judge: U.S. women’s soccer team can’t strike before Olympics

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CHICAGO (AP) — A federal judge says the world champion U.S. women’s soccer team currently does not have the right to strike to seek improved conditions and wages before the Summer Olympics.

Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman ruled Friday that the team remains bound by a no-strike clause in earlier agreements.

The case pits the team’s union, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association, against the Chicago-based governing body, the U.S. Soccer Federation. The federation sued to clarify the strike issue.

The federation warned that a strike could have forced the women to pull out of the Olympics, which, in turn, would have hurt the development of the sport in the U.S. The union wanted the option of striking, though it hadn’t said definitively it would strike.

The women’s team is seeking its fourth straight Olympic gold medal in Rio de Janeiro.

The lawsuit focused on strike rights is related to a wage discrimination complaint filed by five players in March with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The complaint alleges that women’s team players in some cases earn as much as four times less than their counterparts on the men’s national team.

U.S. Soccer maintains that characterization is misleading because the men and women are paid differently under collective bargaining agreements and because the complaint’s allegation that the women generate more revenue is based on figures from last year, when the team won the World Cup and went on a victory tour.

Oral arguments in May focused on whether an existing agreement between the union and the federation bars the women from striking.

In her 13-page ruling, posted Friday, the judge says the union didn’t persuade her that terms of the earlier collectively bargaining agreement — including a no-strike clause — did not carry over to a 2013 memorandum of understanding, which the sides agreed to as they tried and failed to hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement. And she was dismissive of union arguments that a no-strike provision should have been spelled out explicitly in the memorandum.

“Federal law encourages courts to be liberal in their recognition and interpretation of collective bargaining agreements, so as to lessen strife and encourage congenial relations between unions and companies,” she wrote. “A collective bargaining agreement may be partly or wholly oral and a written collective bargaining agreement may be orally modified.”

Federation lawyer Russell Sauer Jr. said during arguments that a no-strike clause is implied in the still-valid memorandum of understanding signed by both sides in 2013. A lawyer for the union balked, saying the federation failed to secure a no-strike clause in writing and cannot argue now that such a provision is implied.

Asked by the judge why the federation did not insist on a no-strike clause in the memorandum, another federation lawyer, Amy Quartarolo, said it was made clear in emails and other communications that a no-strike provision in previous CBAs carried over into the 2013 agreement.

The Olympic Games, which the women’s team qualified for earlier this year, start in Brazil on Aug. 5. The American women won the World Cup with a 5-2 victory over Japan in Canada last year.

The union hadn’t formally identified grievances that might trigger a strike. Many players, however, have voiced concern over gender equity in soccer. Some pointed to the artificial turf the women had to play on in Canada, pointing out the men’s World Cup is played on natural grass.

MORE: U.S. women learn Olympic group opponents

Asher Hong leads U.S. men’s gymnastics world team selection camp after first day

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Asher Hong, 18, posted the highest all-around score on the first of two days of competition at the U.S. men’s gymnastics selection camp to determine the last three spots on the team for the world championships that start in three weeks.

Hong, bidding to become the youngest U.S. man to compete at worlds since Danell Leyva in 2009, totaled 84.6 points in Colorado Springs. He edged Colt Walker by one tenth. Tokyo Olympians Shane Wiskus (84.15) and Yul Moldauer (83.95) were next. Full apparatus-by-apparatus scores are here.

Brody Malone, who repeated as U.S. all-around champion at August’s national championships, and runner-up Donnell Whittenburg already clinched spots on the five-man team for worlds in Liverpool, Great Britain. They did not compete Monday, though their results from the first day of nationals are shown in the official scores.

The three remaining team spots will not necessarily go to the top three all-arounders at this week’s camp, which is supposed to be weighed equally with results from August’s nationals. Hong was third at nationals, but if excluding difficulty bonus points from that meet that will not be considered by the committee, would have finished behind Walker and Moldauer in August.

A selection committee is expected to announce the team soon after the second and final day of selection camp competition on Wednesday evening. The committee will look at overall scoring potential for the world team final, where three men go per apparatus, and medal potential in individual events.

Stephen Nedoroscik, who last year became the first American to win a world title on the pommel horse, is trying to make the team solely on that apparatus. He wasn’t at his best at nationals and struggled again on Monday, hurting his chances of displacing an all-arounder for one of the last three spots.

The U.S. has reason to emphasize the team event over individual medals at this year’s worlds. It will clinch an Olympic berth by finishing in the top three, and its medal hopes are boosted by the absence of the Russians who won the Olympic team title. All gymnasts from Belarus and Russia are banned indefinitely from international competition due to the war in Ukraine.

In recent years, the U.S. has been among the nations in the second tier behind China, Japan and Russia, including in Tokyo, where the Americans were fifth.

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Ironman Kona World Championships return for first time in three years, live on Peacock

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The Ironman Kona World Championships return after a three-year hiatus with a new format, live on Peacock on Thursday and Saturday at 12 p.m. ET.

The Ironman, held annually in Hawaii since 1978, and in Kailua-Kona since 1981, was not held in 2020 or 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The world championships made a one-time-only stop in St. George, Utah, on May 7 to make up for the 2021 cancellation. The winners were Norway’s Kristian Blummenfelt, the Tokyo Olympic triathlon champion, and Swiss Daniela Ryf, who bagged her fifth Ironman world title.

Both are entered in Kailua-Kona, where the races are now split between two days — Thursday for the women and Saturday for the men.

An Ironman includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a marathon — totaling 140.6 miles of racing. It takes top triathletes eight hours to complete. Very arguably, it crowns the world’s fittest man and woman.

WATCH LIVE: Ironman Kona, Thursday, 12 p.m. ET — STREAM LINK

Ryf, 35 and a 2008 and 2012 Olympian, can tie retired countrywoman Natascha Badmann for second place on the women’s list at six Ironman world titles. Only Zimbabwean-turned-American Paula Newby-Fraser has more with eight.

The field also includes German Anne Haug, the 2019 Kona champ and only woman other than Ryf to win since 2015. Brit Lucy Charles-Barclay, the Kona runner-up in 2017, 2018 and 2019, returns after missing the St. George event due to a stress fracture in her hip.

Blummenfelt, 28 and in his Kona debut, will try to become the youngest male champion in Kona since German Normann Stadler in 2005. His top challengers include countryman Gustav Iden, the two-time reigning Half Ironman world champion, and German Patrick Lange, the 2017 and 2018 Ironman Kona winner.

Also racing Saturday is Dallas Clark, a retired All-Pro NFL tight end with the Indianapolis Colts, and Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 champion who completed the 2011 Kona Ironman in 12 hours, 52 minutes, 40 seconds.

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