MEXICO CITY -- When the U.S. men's soccer players travel back to their clubs from Wednesday's game against Mexico, they will fly in business class to destinations in Europe and North America. When the U.S. women's national team players traveled back to the U.S. this week after winning the Olympic gold medal, many of them flew in coach class (while some had upgrades to premium economy purchased by U.S. Soccer).
The U.S. Olympic Committee purchased the airline tickets for the Olympics, which were coach-class seats for the U.S. women, just as they would have been for the U.S. men's team had they qualified.
That's part of what I learned after some readers had asked following the Olympic story that Japan's World Cup-winning women's soccer team had flown in coach on the same flight their men's Olympic team had flown in business.
Some context: When the U.S. men did their most recent collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Soccer, business-class travel was one of the points they negotiated. The U.S. women, by contrast, do not have business-class travel as part of their CBA, but it likely will come up again when negotiations start for a new CBA this year.
Some observers will greet the news that the U.S. men and women travel in different classes as an example that the men are treated better by U.S. Soccer than the women. Others will take it as an example that you get what you can negotiate. As for U.S. Soccer, a spokesman told me the federation did upgrade the travel conditions for the U.S. women's team during the Olympics, paying to put the team on a train between Newcastle and Manchester instead of on an IOC-provided bus. The spokesman added that the federation also pays salaries to most of the U.S. women's players in the absence of a top-flight women's pro league.
It will be interesting to see if the U.S. women's team plays hardball with the federation (and vice-versa) during upcoming CBA negotiations in the wake of their gold medal-winning performance. U.S. women's coach Pia Sundhage has guided the U.S. to three finals in three major tournaments since taking over in 2007, winning two of them. Her contract is up in November.
Sundhage is earning a base salary of $190,000 annually, compared to the $2.5 million base salary of U.S. men's coach Jurgen Klinsmann, according to public records.