When the final whistle sounded in France’s Stade de Lyon, the American women’s soccer team stormed the pitch. After 90 minutes of the biggest game of their life, the team was ready to claim the 2019 World Cup after beating the Netherlands 2-0.

The celebrations in the field this year were similar: hugs, tears, cheers. But something was different in the stands. Instead of the usual “USA” chants, the crowd shouted “Equal Pay!”

The team’s battle for their fourth World Championship had just ended, but a new battle had only just begun.

As the US women’s national team prepares for its way to Tokyo, where it will become the first team in the history of women’s football to compete in a row to win a world championship and Olympic gold, calls for equal pay for women in sport have resurfaced.

The dialogue reappeared last week with the release of HBO Max’s documentary “LFG”, which follows the team’s struggle for equal pay when the team sued their employer, US Soccer, just three months before the 2019 World Cup.

Midfielder Rose Lavelle (16) and defender Ali Krieger (11) celebrate after defeating the Netherlands in the championship game of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Last week, a group of US Senators also reintroduced the Even Playing Field Act, a bill that calls for equal pay, investment and working conditions for all national team athletes, coaches and staff. The bill was first presented in July 2019 after the World Cup.

The national team has advocated equal pay in its struggle over the years. In the stands of professional women’s football, the call of “equal pay” is now ubiquitous – something of a collective call for the countless fans of the team. Earlier this year, striker Megan Rapinoe gave virtual testimony during a House Oversight Committee hearing that focused on underpaid women in the workplace.

“What we have learned, and are still learning, is that there is no level of status – and no achievement or power – that will protect you from the clutches of inequality,” Rapinoe said in her statement. “You cannot just surpass inequality or be excellent enough to escape any form of discrimination.”

The story goes on

Rapinoe also spoke at the White House on Equal Pay Day – which symbolizes how long a woman has to work a year to earn what male colleagues earned the year before.

The USWNT lawsuit, led by star striker Alex Morgan, was filed on International Women’s Day 2019. The lawsuit alleged that the team was treated unequally and compensated for years despite winning multiple world championships and Olympic gold.

Megan Rapinoe celebrates after scoring the opening goal at the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.

Megan Rapinoe celebrates after scoring the opening goal at the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France.

In April, a federal judge approved a partial settlement on the matter – paving the way for the team to appeal against a rejection by the same judge last year.

Last year, Justice R. Gary Klausner of the United States District Court for the Central District of California dismissed key allegations made by players that they were systemically underpaid by US football. In the days after the settlement was approved, the team petitioned a federal appeals court to overturn Klausner’s earlier decision.

“For every win, loss and draw that women get, they are paid less than men who do the same sport and do the same job; that’s gender discrimination, “the players’ spokeswoman Molly Levinson said in a statement at the time. “An ubiquitous atmosphere of sexism fueled this wage discrimination.”

Both parties were asked to submit briefings in the summer.

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Fans hold signs that say, "Equal pay for superior play" how the USWNT celebrate their fourth victory at the Women's World Cup with a ticker tape parade in New York on July 10, 2019.

Fans hold up signs reading “Equal Pay for Superior Game” as the USWNT celebrates winning its fourth Women’s World Championship with a ticker tape parade in New York on July 10, 2019.

Bigger than sport

The women’s national team is likely to be a north star for equal pay for women in sports and women in the workplace. On a broader level, achieving equal opportunities at the highest level in sport could lead to improvements in all areas – also for young people.

Kim Turner, project leader and senior attorney at Fair Play for Girls in Sports, said there was a link between treating women athletes at the professional and college levels and treating young women athletes.

“It’s easy to tie the dots between a middle school girl experiencing inferior dressing rooms, team rooms, exercise and play facilities, and a college where female professional athletes are similar to their males from the city, program, and league Colleagues are subjugated, ”said Turner.

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Fair Play for Girls in Sports is a project by Legal Aid at Work, a centuries-old organization that provides free legal advice to people on low incomes. In her role, Turner focuses on finding institutional equity at the K-12 level through enforcing Title IX by ensuring that athletes are provided with equal resources.

“My argument is that Alex Morgan and her ‘same pay, same game’ campaign and her lawsuit with the girl who lives two doors down is on the street,” said Turner. “She is Alex Morgan who is waging the same inequality struggles with her school, her park, and her free time. There is a connection between the US women’s soccer team’s struggle for justice, terms and pay and the girls in our own towns and cities and counties who are experiencing absolutely the same gender inequality. “

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It’s no secret that the women’s national football team has influenced women’s football in the United States. It was most evident in 1999 when the team won their second world title in a historic match against China at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

America quickly fell in love with football, and the “99ers” – as this year’s squad was called – rose to American royalty after winning on penalties.

This game also gave the sport the iconic image of Brandi Chastain slipping to her knees in a sports bra with her fists raised. She clutched her jersey in one hand as she yelled at the 90,000 fans at the Rose Bowl after scoring the game-winning kick.

Brandi Chastain celebrates by taking off her shirt after scoring the decisive goal on penalties against China in the 1999 Women's World Cup final.

Brandi Chastain celebrates by taking off her shirt after scoring the decisive goal on penalties against China in the 1999 Women’s World Cup final.

Not long after the victory in ’99, the women’s national team mobilized – similar to the USWNT in 2019. At that time, women only fought for the basic right to play football and to earn a decent wage in the process.

On ESPN’s 30 for 30 podcast, Back Pass, former players like Julie Foudy shared their struggle to get a professional league up and running. They organized and hired a lawyer and fought US Soccer to invest in a new women’s league so that the players could make a living from the beautiful game.

At the time, US Soccer had invested millions to help Major League Soccer get started, and the players felt that the association viewed their proposed league as competition. The women eventually found an investor and founded the Women’s United Soccer Association, which lasted only three seasons.

Today women’s football is growing in the United States, with expansion teams like Angel City FC in Los Angeles and others to debut in the National Women’s Soccer League in the years to come. Growth is likely to be fueled by every international title the USWNT brings home, including another one with an Olympic gold medal in August.

On July 10, 1999, the national team won their second world championship. America barely noticed when the team won its first eight years earlier. On July 7, 2019, the team won its fourth place.

But the battle of the players for equality? That remains largely the same 20 years later.

Melanie Anzidei is a reporter for NorthJersey.com. For full access to the latest news, subscribe or activate your digital account today.

Email: anzidei@northjersey.com. Follow @melanieanzidei on Twitter

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: USWNT’s struggle for equal pay in football resurfaces ahead of the Tokyo Olympics