Sept. 10 (UPI) -- Cindy Parlow Cone, the president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, sent an open letter Friday asking the unions of the men's and women's national teams to agree to equally divide FIFA's World Cup prize money.
In the public letter, Cone called for the men's national team to allow the USSF to redistribute a portion of FIFA's World Cup payouts to the women's national team. Cone said the federation will offer the unions the same contract.
Led by star forward Alex Morgan, members of the U.S. women's team sued the USSF in March 2019 for equal pay, and the disparity in World Cup prize money has been a major sticking point between the two sides. The federation insists that due to FIFA's control of the prize pot, it is out of U.S. Soccer's control to split the funds equally.
U.S. women's national team players argue that FIFA -- the international governing body of soccer -- doesn't control the money for a large number of games, such as World Cup qualifiers.
On Friday, Cone pleaded with the men's and women's teams to join together to negotiate "a solution that equalizes World Cup prize money between the USMNT and USWNT."
"As a former player, I want to once again make it clear that I, along with all of U.S. Soccer, am 100% committed to equal pay for our national team players," Cone said in the open letter. "We remain steadfast in our dedication to ensuring equal pay for our national team. We're focused on demonstrating this commitment through action.
"As a federation, we would much rather negotiate a single collective bargaining agreement with both the men's and women's teams, but since neither team has agreed to take that approach, we are moving forward separately with each Players Association.
"The massive discrepancy in FIFA World Cup prize money is by far the most challenging issue we continue to face in our parallel negotiations with the men's and women's national teams. While FIFA has made some impactful investments in the women's game, the discrepancy in prize money remains stark.
"FIFA alone controls those funds, and U.S. Soccer is legally obligated to distribute those funds based on our current negotiated collective bargaining agreements with the men's and women's teams. Within this challenge, we see an opportunity to create change.
"To capitalize on that opportunity, we need our men's and women's national teams to come together and re-think how we've done things in the past. To that end, we have invited the players and both Players Associations to join U.S. Soccer in negotiating a solution together that equalizes World Cup prize money between the USMNT and USWNT."
Molly Levinson, spokesperson for the U.S. women's national team players, said in a statement that actions were needed over more words.
"USSF has finally acknowledged that they pay women players less than men players," Levinson said in response to the federation's letter. "USSF must correct this ongoing disparity by reaching an equal pay collective bargaining agreement and resolving the ongoing lawsuit.
"Letters to fans are not a substitute. It's time to back up a lot of words with some actions."
The U.S. men's national team has supported the women's team in their equal pay lawsuit and filed an amicus brief that was signed by representatives of the USMNT's union in July. It backed up the USWNT's appeal after a judge dismissed the lawsuit.
In the USWNT's 2019 lawsuit, the women asked for more than $64 million in damages and $3 million in interest under the Equal Pay Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner in Los Angeles threw out the equal pay claim in May 2020, ruling that USWNT players declined a pay-to-play structure similar to the one in the men's collective bargaining agreement and accepted greater base salaries and benefits than USMNT players.
Klausner allowed the USWNT's allegation of discriminatory working conditions to go to trial. The women then asked the 9th Circuit to overrule the trial court's ruling and let their wage claim move forward.
A three-judge panel is expected to hear oral arguments later this year or in early 2022.