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Kenyan soccer official believed dead in Ethiopia plane crash

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ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — A prominent Kenyan soccer official is believed to be among 157 people killed in a plane crash in Ethiopia on Sunday.

Hussein Swaleh, the former secretary general of the Kenyan soccer federation, was due to return home on the Ethiopian Airlines flight after working as the match commissioner in an African Champions League game in Egypt on Friday.

The plane was headed for the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, but it crashed minutes after takeoff in Addis Ababa. Authorities say there were 149 passengers and eight crew members onboard and no one survived.

Kenyan soccer federation president Nick Mwendwa said Swaleh was one of the 32 Kenyan nationals on the flight. Mwendwa wrote on Twitter: “Sad day for football.”

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.”

USWNT players sue for equitable pay

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Three months before beginning their defense of their Women’s World Cup title, American players escalated their legal dispute with the U.S. Soccer Federation over equal treatment and pay.

Players filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the federation Friday, alleging ongoing “institutionalized gender discrimination” that includes unequal pay with their counterparts on the men’s national team.

The women’s team has often championed equal rights issues and sought more equitable pay during collective bargaining two years ago.

“I think a lot of people look to us and our team and the collective voice that we have and what we’ve stood for, for inspiration and for power, and as an ally in this broader fight for equality and human rights, really,” said winger Megan Rapinoe, a co-captain and veteran of 149 international appearances.

The 28 members of the current women’s player pool filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status, was filed on International Women’s Day.

Players seek damages that include back pay.

“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 U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association is not party to the lawsuit but said in a statement it “supports the plaintiffs’ goal of eliminating gender-based discrimination by USSF.”

The USSF did not have an immediate comment.

The men’s and women’s U.S. national teams have separate collective bargaining agreements, and their pay is structured differently. That means there is no dollar-to-dollar salary comparison.

The lawsuit claims that from March 2013 through Dec. 31, 2016, when the previous collective bargaining agreement expired, players on the women’s team could make a maximum salary of $72,000, plus bonuses for winning non-tournament games as well as World Cup appearances and victories, and for Olympic placement.

“A comparison of the WNT and MNT pay shows that if each team played 20 friendlies in a year and each team won all 20 friendlies, female WNT players would earn a maximum of $99,000 or $4,950 per game, while similarly situated male MNT players would earn an average of $263,320 or $13,166 per game against the various levels of competition they would face,” the lawsuit says.

It concludes that a top-tier women’s player would make only 38 percent of a similarly situated men’s player.

A pay disparity was very apparent at the World Cup: In 2014, the federation gave the men’s roster a performance bonus of nearly $5.4 million after the U.S. went out in the round of 16 in Brazil. The women’s team received a bonus of $1.72 million after winning the 2015 World Cup in Canada.

The last time the U.S. men made the World Cup field (for Brazil) male players selected to the roster received a $55,000 bonus, while the women received $15,000 each for making the 2015 World Cup, according to court documents. Additionally, the men shared a $2 million bonus for qualifying, while the women shared $300,000.

The USSF has long maintained that any disparity is the result of separate collective bargaining agreements.

Compensation for the women includes a guaranteed salary and also salaries paid by the USSF for their time with clubs in the National Women’s Soccer League. The men get paid based on roster selection for appearances for friendlies and tournaments.

While star players on the women’s team, like forward Alex Morgan, can make as much as their male counterparts because of endorsement deals, the disparity becomes greater for players with lesser profiles.

Terms of the collective bargaining agreements have not been made public.

A group of 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 Morgan, Rapinoe, Becky Sauerbrunn, Carli Lloyd and former goalkeeper Hope Solo. The players received a right-to-sue letter from the EEOC last month.

Kathryn H. Ruemmler, a lawyer representing the federation, wrote in a May 2016 letter to the EEOC that over the previous four years, women’s national team players averaged almost $280,000, a figure $90,000 more than men’s national team players. She pointed out that women receive benefits the men don’t, including severance pay, medical insurance, maternity leave, child care and a relocation allowance.

Ruemmler also said men’s games generated about $144 million from 2008-15, while women’s matches generated $53 million, and television ratings for men’s games from 2013-15 averaged twice the figure for women’s matches.

But those figures were for years prior to the women’s 2015 World Cup victory and also did not include the men’s failure to reach the 2018 World Cup. The women’s team brought in $6.6 million in profit in 2015, compared to less than $2 million for the men’s team.

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

Players received raises in base pay and bonuses as well as better provisions for travel and accommodations, including increased per diems. It also gave the players some control of certain licensing and marketing rights.

The lawsuit filed Friday seeks “an adjustment of the wage rates and benefits” for the women.

“At the heart of this whole issue we believe that it’s the right thing. We believe that there has been discrimination against us,” Rapinoe said. “And while we have fought very hard and for a long time, whether that be through our CBA or through our players association, putting ourselves in the best possible position that we can to get the best deal that we can, we still feel that we don’t have what we’re trying to achieve, which is equality in the workplace.”