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Contract dispute leads to boycott of Australia Cup, 'B' team will go.

By Gary Davidson

(Friday, December 24, 1999) -- For the second time in four years, the United States women's national team is staging a walkout.

One week after the U.S. women were featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as "Sportswomen of the Year," they have "elected" not to participate in the first event of 2000, the Australian Cup January 7-13 which would include matches against Australia, Sweden and the Czech Republic.

"The 'A' team has elected not to accept our offer," United States Soccer Federation chief operating officer Tom King told The Washington Post. "We have an obligation to prepare for the Olympics, and we will take a team to Australia with a core of younger players."

The U.S. women staged a brief job action before the 1996 Summer Olympics because of a dispute over distribution of bonus money should the team capture a medal. A compromise was reached and the Americans captured the gold medal.

Now, six-and-one-half months after the U.S. women captured the 1999 Women's World Cup before wildly adoring crowds in the U.S. and an estimated television audience of 40 million who watched the championship game victory over China, another impasse exists. The 2000 Summer Games will be played in Australia in September.

"The last thing we wanted to do was what ended up happening," star striker Mia Hamm told the Post. But "I don't know anybody that goes out and wins a world championship and they are actually offered less (money). All of us players felt we had moved beyond that point. . . . We felt if we accepted these terms, it would be a step backward."

The women's contract, signed before the 1996 Olympics, expired in July. That agreement provided $3,150 per month for the team's most experienced players and approximately $250 per game. According to the Post, the U.S. women's agent, John B. Langel of Philadelphia said the players sought $5,000 per month plus $2,000 per game for the 18 players selected to go to Australia.

The two sides met two weeks ago in Anaheim at which time the USSF reportedly asked the women to compete in Australia under the terms of the expired contract.

"Our official position is that we have made a two-month offer, a bridge proposal, to allow more time to negotiate a broader deal," King told the Chicago Tribune. "They did not accept the two-month offer."

Langel also told the Tribune that it was made clear to him a new offer would not be made in the near future. "The women's game was not seen as a major sport (by the Federation]," Langel said. "That's no longer the case. It's not an accident this team was on the cover of Sports Illustrated."

Another USSF official, who asked to speak off the record said, "It's not that we don't want to give them a fair deal. They are demanding a long-term contract that will run through the next World Cup. We offered a one-year deal with a nice increase, but their representative says they will only talk long-term. We can't come up with firm numbers to make them an offer until we know when the next Women's World Cup will be played. If it is in the same year (2002) as the men's, as has been suggested, it will cost us millions in sponsorship dollars because sponsors will not be able to cover both teams in the same year. They didn't want a one-year deal. We couldn't offer a long-term one until we get some answers, so we said go to Australia under the your current deal. They have said no."

The situation is further complicated by the resignation of head coach Tony DiCicco, effective next weekend. The USSF has appeared to be in no hurry to select a replacement. DiCicco's assistants Lauren Gregg and Jay Hoffman will handle the trip to Australia.

The exact composition of the team that will represent the U.S. in Australia is not clear, but it will certainly be comprised of players with limited international experience.

The U.S. is also scheduled to face arch-rival Norway February 6 at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a match which is scheduled to be televised live in ESPN.

"The impact we want to have is not just in the games we play," Hamm said. "We want to make sure the women playing on this team 10 years from now are not dealing with this."

Gary Davidson is managing editor of SoccerTimes and can be e-mailed at info@soccertimes.com.

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