United States Soccer Federation President Cindy Parlow Cone said Friday the body hopes to "equalize" World Cup prize money for its men's and women's national teams as part of efforts to settle ongoing litigation with its women footballers.
In an open letter addressed to U.S. fans, Parlow Cone said the gulf in prize money paid out by FIFA in the men's and women's tournaments was "by far the most challenging issue" facing U.S. Soccer in pay negotiations with men's and women's teams.
The question of World Cup prize money formed a prominent part of a lawsuit filed by the U.S. women's soccer team in 2019, which accused the USSF of "stubbornly refusing" to pay its men and women players equally.
A federal judge later rejected the claim of pay discrimination, but the U.S. women have appealed.
The 2019 lawsuit cited the discrepancy in World Cup prize money payments paid to the two teams in 2014 and 2015.
The U.S. men received $5.375 million for reaching the round of 16 at the 2014 World Cup, while the women received $1.725 million for winning the 2015 tournament.
The USSF has argued that its hands are tied because the prize money is set by FIFA, which awarded $38 million to France for winning the 2018 men's World Cup in Russia, but only $4 million to the American women for winning the 2019 Women's World Cup.
"FIFA alone control those funds," Parlow Cone said in her letter on Friday. "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."
However, Parlow Cone said U.S. Soccer wants to bring the men's and women's national teams together to "rethink 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," she wrote.
"Until FIFA equalizes the prize money that it awards to the Men's and Women's World Cup participants, it is incumbent upon us to collectively find a solution.
"U.S. Soccer is ready and willing to meet with both groups of players as soon as possible and as often as needed to determine that innovative solution."
Parlow Cone said the USSF had wanted to negotiate a single collective bargaining agreement covering men's and women's teams but had met resistance. Accordingly, the USSF is negotiating separate agreements.
U.S. Soccer said the body "will be offering the USMNT and the USWNT the exact same contract, just as we have in past negotiations."
"That means offering CBAs that include equalized FIFA prize money, identical game bonuses and identical commercial and revenue sharing agreements."
A spokeswoman for the U.S. women's team said Parlow Cone's letter showed that the USSF "finally acknowledged that they pay women less than men and 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."