US Soccer stars 'confident' of winning gender discrimination lawsuit

The US women's national soccer team will "fight until the end" in its battle for equality, says one of the team's co-captains Megan Rapinoe.

With the Women's World Cup just months away, 28 players in the US squad last week filed a federal class-action lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation, stating "institutionalized gender discrimination," which the reigning world champions say has existed for years.

The suit, filed in a federal court in Los Angeles on March 8 -- International Women's Day -- intensified the team's long-running dispute with the federation over pay equity and working conditions, stating that "female players have been consistently paid less money than their male counterparts."

Rapinoe, a World Cup winner in 2015, told CNN Sport she was confident the team would be successful, adding that the USWNT was happy to "clear the path as much as we can" for other countries in the fight for gender equality.

World Cup favorites

The dominant power in the women's game, the USWNT is the world's top-ranked team and favorites to win this summer's Women's World Cup in France, which would bring about a fourth title in eight tournaments. The country's men, by comparison, are currently 25th in the world rankings and failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. US Soccer has yet to comment on the legal action which also seeks compensation for any player who has appeared for the US since February 2015. Rapinoe was one of five high-profile players who filed a complained with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2016 alleging wage discrimination. The men's national team, the athletes said, unjustly earned far more than they did.

The players and their federation eventually agreed a settlement in 2017. Though the terms of the deal, which runs through to 2021, were not released, it reportedly included increases in base pay and match bonuses, better per diem allowances, enhanced travel benefits and increased financial support for players who are pregnant. However, the US women soccer players argue that they still receive less pay from their employers even though they are required to play more games than the men's team and win more matches. Frustrated by a lack of progress on their wage discrimination complaint, the EEOC granted the players a right-to-sue letter. "We tried to go through the EEOC process and tried to get the federation to come to the table, not really in negotiation but in mediation," said Rapinoe. "They were not really into doing that. "At this time, this is the best step we can take to put us in the strongest position to continue this fight." The first white professional athlete to kneel during the US national anthem in support of Colin Kaepernick, Rapinoe said the team did not make the decision lightly with the World Cup on the horizon. "It's not something that we were willing to give up or just let float out into the ether," the Californian said. "We felt as well that it's far enough out that we can manage the distraction now and be done with that and fully focus on the World Cup, and obviously with litigation it takes a million years to do anything in the court [so] it's not as if anything is happening very quickly. "No one understands better than us the power and the importance of winning and pushing the needle forward so this team has always had distractions of some kind. "We're used to this and we have a very experienced veteran group that can guide the younger players and by the time the World Cup comes around it's not something we're going to be talking about every day." Rapinoe added that the USWNT stars were also motivated by the feeling that they weren't just fighting for themselves. "We have a very visceral understanding of our place within the bigger fight. We feel any time we win, other teams win as well and other players can really piggyback off the success. We're happy to be the ones out charging in front and try to clear the path as much as we can for anyone else."

Alex Morgan, a World Cup winner and Olympic gold medalist, said achieving equal pay would be as great as anything she has achieved on the pitch. "I had a dream to play soccer and to make it at the highest level, but when I'm retired and older what I'll look back on is the legacy that I'll leave and feeling proud of the mark that I've made on the sport," Morgan, who along with Rapinoe filed the 2016 complaint against US Soccer, told CNN Sport.
"At some point we need to take a stand and realize that we do deserve true equality. "Once we all made the decision together it was a really easy one because it's the right thing to do, it's the next step forward."

FIFA extends ban of Afghanistan Football Federation president

FIFA, world football's governing body, has extended the provisional ban of Afghanistan Football Federation (AFF) president Keramuudin Karim by a further 90 days.

Karim was originally given a 90-day ban in December when allegations emerged of sexual and physical abuse by male officials from the AFF towards members of the women's national team.
"During this time, Mr Karim will continue to be banned from all football-related activities at both national and international level," FIFA said in a statement released on Tuesday. After the allegations came to light, Danish sportswear brand Hummel canceled its sponsorship deals with the AFF and demanded Karim's resignation. "This decision is currently being challenged at FIFA by the AFF and the president," an AFF spokesperson told CNN of the world governing body's decision to extend the ban. In December, former Afghan player Khalida Popal, told CNN the abuse had taken place during a seven-day training camp in Jordan at the end of January last year.
Popal, who was forced to flee Afghanistan and now lives in Denmark, was present at the Jordan training camp. She says that at least five women were abused in their rooms by two male officials, who had been sent by the AFF to accompany the players. Apart from Popal, other players have only spoken anonymously, fearing for their safety and that of their families. In a statement released at the time of the allegations, the AFF said it "vigorously rejects" the allegations and said it had a "zero tolerance approach" to abuse.
It said the allegations were being driven by "former employees." In December, a FIFA source said the world governing body had called in help from the United Nations. "The safety of those involved was the most important aspect in all of this," the FIFA source told CNN.

Meet Pratima Sherpa, the teen golfer making history for Nepal

Tucked between the third green and the fourth tee of the Royal Nepal Golf Club in Kathmandu, there is a maintenance shed.

Smaller than most household bathrooms in the US, this shed is home to a family of three. The parents work on the golf course, while the daughter -- in between studying and tending to a small flock of animals -- plays golf. But this isn't any golfer. Pratima Sherpa is the best female golfer in Nepal. And when she plays, locals press against the fence surrounding the course, eager to catch sight of the 18-year-old breezing so effortlessly between holes. Sherpa has become something of a Nepalese celebrity. Having climbed to the top of the women's national rankings, she now harbors dreams of becoming her country's first female golf pro. "Nepal is a smaller country than most, and playing golf can be difficult for poor families like ours," Sherpa tells.

"But I've got a big opportunity to play golf, and feel very proud and lucky that I've got that chance. "I want to become a great golfer."

Zinedine Zidane back at Real Madrid with power but increased pressure

Real Madrid stunned the world by announcing Zinedine Zidane's return to the Santiago Bernabeu's touchline but at the club, the Frenchman has his own big boots to fill.

Jose Mourinho was strongly rumoured to make a return to the Bernabeu following a set of poor results for Real Madrid but on Monday evening, the tide suddenly turned in Spain. Out of the blue came the name of Zinedine Zidane, a former Real boss just like Mourinho, but one that was not even remotely counted by the media as a probable to replace Santiago Solari. All of  a sudden, the likes of La Sexta , AS , El Mundo started to report that Zidane was going to be appointed the Real Madrid manager as soon as the same day.

The timing, the urgency of it, was hard to believe. It wasn't a long drawn process, as many managerial appointments have been in the past. But it wasn't a regular one either.

The club had seen Barcelona do the double over them in the league and comfortably so. In a week before the birth anniversary of the club, they were out of Copa del Rey in the semifinals, out of contention in the league and most damagingly of all, swept aside by a young Ajax side to be dumped out of the Champions League. CSKA Moscow first and Ajax now, two thrashings whereby the defence leaked four goals each and the writing was on the wall. Another manager was set to be shown the ever revolving door at the Bernabeu. Santi Solari was out of the job, despite beating Valladolid in a come from behind win. Zidane, surprisingly, was back.

And back he was just nine months after resigning from the job which came just five days after a record third straight Champions League title. Accompanied by Real Madrid president Florentino Perez and his wife, Zizou entered the lush press room of the Bernabeu wearing a blazer and jeans. He seemed his usual calm and comfortable self and revealed he was offered the job five days ago and had chosen to accept out of the love for the club.

The timing seemed peculiar. The decision to come back seemed absurd when all that he reportedly asked of the club before stepping down was not adhered to. He had asked for Cristiano Ronaldo to be retained, Gareth Bale to be sold and no keeper to be signed. And yet, during the summer, Ronaldo was sold to Juventus, Bale had been retained in the squad and Thibaut Courtois had been signed from Chelsea pushing Keylor Navas to the bench.

The timing of Zidane's appointment is perfect. He has 11 games left in the league and the job at hand is to keep the club within the top-four to maintain their place in the UEFA Champions League spots. He will use this time to assess the squad, the newcomers since he left and figure out the players he wants and at what positions.

Unlike the past, Zidane comes in with bigger say and power in the role he has taken. Someone who is not considered to be the greatest tactician, Zizou thrives on motivating players, getting the best out of them and managing the dressing room better than many of his more seasoned peers. If a massive overhaul were to happen at the club, Zidane should be the person leading the charge instead of the sporting directors or presidents of the club.

The key factor in the entire appointment and Zidane's agreement appears to be the power he would yield over calling the shots at the club on transfer policy and player management. Further, Zidane is a safe bet for the club, too, as against someone like Mourinho who despite his impressive CV in the past, didn't make any fans at Manchester United for lack of results or style of play. Both these aspects are sacrosanct for Real Madrid.

Making Zizou an even more ideal choice over a Mourinho is the familiarity with the club, the style, the culture and the squad. There are quite a few members in the squad who he worked with in the past but the issue would be that they are a year older, lacking confidence after a less than satisfying campaign and hampered by fitness concerns such as Marcelo.


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