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Williams, Duggan weigh in on U.S. soccer discrimination suit

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While Serena Williams admittedly doesn’t follow soccer, the U.S. women’s national team caught her attention with its lawsuit seeking equitable pay.

The players accuse the U.S. Soccer Federation of “institutionalized gender discrimination” that includes unequal pay with their counterparts on the men’s national team.

At the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, Williams praised the players who came before her to fight for equal prize money in tennis.

“I think at some point, in every sport, you have to have those pioneers, and maybe it’s the time for soccer,” she said. “I’m playing because someone else stood up, and so what they are doing right now is hopefully for the future of women’s soccer.”

The 28 members of the current women’s player pool filed the lawsuit Friday in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The USSF has not commented on the suit.

“We believe it is our duty to be the role models that we’ve set out to be and fight to what we know we legally deserve,” forward Christen Press told The Associated Press. “And hopefully in that way it inspires women everywhere.”

The lawsuit, which is the culmination of long-simmering concerns by the players, highlights the struggle for female athletes globally to achieve fair compensation for their efforts, even if that doesn’t mean identical paychecks to their male counterparts. “Fair” can include simple things like access to practice fields and changing rooms.

In tennis, Grand Slam events and many other tournaments give equal prize money to men and women, in part due to the work of pioneers like Billie Jean King, who was calling for equitable prize money in the 1970s. She once famously proclaimed: “Everyone thinks women should be thrilled when we get crumbs, and I want women to have the cake, the icing and the cherry on top, too.”

Two years ago, just before the U.S. women’s soccer team struck a new collective bargaining agreement that gave players pay raises and better benefits, the women’s national hockey team won a better contract after taking the drastic step of threatening to sit out of the world championships. The players’ effort went viral with the social media hashtag #BeBoldForChange.

Meghan Duggan was one of the players who led the fight.

“I have the utmost respect for the U.S. women’s soccer team and what they have always stood for,” she said. “They have continued to lead the way in advancing women’s sports and this is just another example of their boldness and leadership.”

The men’s and women’s soccer teams have separate collective bargaining agreements, and their pay is structured differently. That means there is no simple dollar-to-dollar salary comparison. Terms of the CBAs have not been made public.

Compensation for the women includes a guaranteed salary and salaries paid by the USSF for their time with clubs in the National Women’s Soccer League. The men get paid based on appearances, roster selection for friendlies and tournaments, and collective performance. The USSF has cited the contracts, as well as the revenue generated by the teams, as the reason for the differences.

While the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association is not a party to the lawsuit, it issued a statement supporting the players’ goal of “eliminating gender-based discrimination by USSF.”

A group of five star players filed a complaint in 2016 with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that alleged wage discrimination by the federation. The new lawsuit effectively ends that EEOC complaint, brought by Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, Carli Lloyd and former goalkeeper Hope Solo. The players received a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC last month.

At the time of the original complaint, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut led a bipartisan group of lawmakers in a letter to the EEOC in support of the players. On Sunday, she applauded the team’s ongoing efforts for pay equity.

“These women are at the pinnacle of their sport. They are world champions. Yet, when they receive their paychecks, they are being paid less than their male counterparts. That is unacceptable,” she said in a statement to the AP. “Women and men in the same job deserve the same pay. Period. That is why I will keep pushing Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which should be on the House Floor soon.”

Following the EEOC action, the women took the fight for equality into contract negotiations and struck a new CBA covering 2017-21.

WNBA players have exercised their right to terminate their CBA after the 2019 season, cutting the deal short by two years. The move allows the sides to negotiate a new deal that would go into effect for the 2020 season during an Olympic year.

“Without commenting on the specifics of the lawsuit, the WNBPA stands for equity and fairness, and stands against discrimination of any kind. We are proud to stand with the USWNTPA and other unions in support of players on these issues,” said Terri Jackson, WNBA Players Association director of operations.

Solo no longer plays for the national team. Her contract was terminated when she was suspended for comments made at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. However, she continues to champion gender equity issues.

Last August, she filed her own federal lawsuit in the Northern District of California, accusing U.S. Soccer of violating the Equal Pay Act. That lawsuit is winding its way through the courts.

“I’d always hoped my former teammates would follow suit and join me in the battle in federal court against the United States Soccer Federation,” Solo told the AP. “It was clear that U.S. Soccer was never going to acquiesce or negotiate to provide us equal pay or agree to treat us fairly. The filing by the entire United Sates women’s national team demonstrated that they no longer fear the federation by forcefully and publicly acknowledging U.S. Soccer’s violations of the Equal Pay Act and Title VII.”

Cyclist in induced coma after Tour of Poland crash

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Dutch cyclist Fabio Jakobsen was put into an induced coma Wednesday after suffering injuries in a crash on the final stretch of the Tour of Poland, organizers said.

A massive crash at the finish of the first stage resulted in Dylan Groenewegen‘s disqualification from the race.

Leading a bunch sprint, Groenewegen veered toward the right barrier, pinching countryman Jakobsen, who barreled into the barrier meters from the finish line.

Jakobsen went head over heels, his bike went airborne and the barriers exploded onto the road, causing more cyclists to crash.

Jakobsen was airlifted to a hospital in serious condition and was put into an induced coma, the Tour de Pologne press office said.

Doctor Pawel Gruenpeter of the hospital in Sosnowiec said Jakobsen suffered injuries to the head and chest but that his condition was stable at the intensive care unit. Jakobsen will need surgery to his face and skull, Gruenpeter told state broadcaster TVP Sport.

Groenewegen crossed the finish line first but was disqualified, giving Jakobsen the stage win, according to the stage race website.

Groenewegen, a 27-year-old Jumbo-Visma rider, owns four Tour de France stage wins among the last three years.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) “strongly condemned” Groenewegen’s “dangerous” and “unacceptable” behavior. It referred Groenewegen’s actions to a disciplinary commission for possible sanctions.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Figure skating Grand Prix Series will be held as ‘domestic’ competitions

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Figure skating’s Grand Prix Series will go ahead as scheduled this fall, with modifications due to the coronavirus pandemic, the International Skating Union decided Monday.

Each of the series’ six tops around the globe will be “a domestic run event,” limited to skaters of the event’s host country, who regularly train in the host country and from a respective geographical area. The number of disciplines and skaters at each event are to be worked out.

The Grand Prix Series, held annually since 1995, is a six-event fall season, qualifying the top six skaters and teams per discipline to December’s Grand Prix Final. The annual stops are in the U.S., Canada, China, France, Russia and Japan, leading up to the Final, which is held at a different site each year.

The Final is the second-biggest annual competition after the world championships, which are typically in late March. The Final is still scheduled for Beijing, though whether or when it can be held will be discussed.

The series begins in late October with Skate America, which debuted in 1979 and has been held every year since 1988 as the biggest annual international competition in the U.S. Skate America’s site is Las Vegas, just as it was in 2019.

Skaters typically compete twice on the Grand Prix Series (three times if they qualify for the Final). ISU vice president Alexander Lakernik said skaters will be limited to one start in the six-event series before the Final, according to a Russian media quote confirmed by Phil Hersh.

The ISU has not confirmed or denied Lakernik’s assertion.

Most, if not all, top-level U.S. skaters train in the U.S. or Canada. That makes the first two Grand Prix stops — Skate America and Skate Canada — likely destinations. Grand Prix assignments have not been published.

“I appreciate the ISU is open to adapting competitive formats and is working to give athletes opportunities to compete,” Evan Bates, a U.S. ice dance champion with Madison Chock who trains in Montreal, wrote in a text message to Hersh. “This announcement gives reassurance that the ISU is doing their best to ensure a season will still take place. Of course, it’s hard to predict what will happen, and we’re not sure about what country we would compete in. It would probably depend on what the quarantine rules are at that time.”

The January 2021 U.S. Championships are scheduled for San Jose, Calif. The March 2021 World Championships are set for Stockholm.

In July, the ISU canceled the Junior Grand Prix Series for skaters mostly ages 13 to 18, including two-time U.S. champion Alysa Liu, who cannot enter the senior Grand Prix until 2021.

Other early season senior international competitions scheduled for September were also canceled or postponed.

U.S. Figure Skating said in a statement that it will have more details on the Grand Prix Series in the coming weeks after collaborating with an ISU-appointed group.

“This is a great example of the figure skating community coming together to ensure that the world’s premier figure skating series will continue during these challenging times,” the statement read. “Figure skaters want to compete and figure skating fans from all around the world want to see their favorite athletes skate, and this format will ensure just that.”

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