CHRISTIAN RADNEDGE in RIO DE JANEIRO —- The United States, most successful ever women’s soccer team, has flown to Rio ahead of their bid for a historic fourth straight gold medal but the cloud of a long-standing pay dispute with the federation hangs over their preparation.

Stars such as Hope Solo and Alex Morgan shared their excitement to be heading to Brazil on social media this week.

This was in stark contrast to recent social media posts which have centred on the fight for the women’s squad to be paid at the same as their male counterparts who failed to even qualify for the Olympic finals.

Team USA . . . chasing record fourth crown in a row

A district court judge ruled last month that the US players were bound to a no-strike clause in their 2013 agreement with US Soccer federation after senior players raised the possibility of action over “unfair” conditions. Five star players, including 2015 World Cup final hat-trick hero Carli Lloyd, filed a wage discrimination complaint earlier this year.

The complaint states that the women players are paid a quarter of what the men are awarded, along with extra bonuses.

New deal ahead

US Soccer, in a statement after the district court ruled in its favour, said that the federation is committed to negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the team that would begin from January 2017.

That led to players taking matters into their own hands, and raising funds not just for themselves but for fellow National Women’s Soccer League players in the buildup to the Rio Games by selling t-shirts for $20 emblazoned with the slogan: ‘Equal Pay Equal Play’.

Goalkeeper Solo said: “It was important for us to use the platform before the Olympic Games to keep our fight for equal pay at the forefront. We’re going to keep pushing and continue to be vocal.”

The US open their Group G Olympics campaign next Wednesday – two days before the Opening Ceremony – against New Zealand at the Mineir√£o Stadium in Belo Horizonte.

They are considered the favourites for the gold medal and should they triumph, they would be well on their way to earning the projected $17.6m in profits for the federation in the 2017 fiscal year.

The US national teams were expected¬† to operate at a $400,000 deficit in 2016 but thanks to the women’s World Cup win and subsequent tour, they brought in profits of $17.7m, helping push their cause for equal pay.

Another issue of contention is the pitch conditions the women are forced to play on on occasion. Plastic pitches were used to much chagrin at last year’s World Cup in Canada.

The USWNT team will not have to worry about that this time round as all of their group games will be played in venues used in the 2014 men’s FIFA World Cup. The Joao Havelange/Nilton Santos/Engenhao/Olympic Stadium in Rio is the only Olympic soccer venue that was not used two years ago.

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