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LYON, France — They brought Megan Rapinoe into a packed FIFA press conference, sat her under a FIFA banner and hoped she would promote Sunday’s FIFA Women’s World Cup final between the United States and the Netherlands (11 a.m. ET).
And Rapinoe, in part, did that, respectfully and enthusiastically talking up her teammates, her coach, her opponents and everything else.
Mostly though, she was Megan Rapinoe, an unapologetic force of nature who never missed an opportunity to advocate, inside and outside of the game, for the investment in women, for the respect of women, for the belief in women.
“We are worthy of that investment,” she said.
If FIFA leadership thought the stage, the backdrop, the significance of the game to be played might silence her, might curb her activism, might make her think twice about speaking truth to power, it was sadly mistaken.
It might be indicative of FIFA itself, which has historically rarely heard, let alone respected, a female voice that came after it.
This relentless American captain of this relentless American team was taking on all comers, ripping FIFA for its lack of care for the game and for critics of the sport who are troubled by female celebrations and female “exuberance”, as Rapinoe put it.
She wasn’t fighting the reality of life in America (although she keeps pushing for more) but of the far more difficult realities elsewhere. She didn’t spend her time at an international press conference promoting herself, but rather shining a light where it is most needed.
“I know we take a great deal of pride trying to push the game forward, not only in our own country but abroad,” Rapinoe said, speaking for all her teammates who embrace this leadership position.
Back in America there are plenty who dismiss Megan Rapinoe because she knelt for the national anthem, because she has expressed her unwillingness to visit the Donald Trump White House, because, well, there are all sorts of reasons. Rapinoe acknowledges that. She acknowledges she isn’t always the easiest to support.
“Maybe you don’t agree with every single way that I do it or [what] gets discussed,” she said. “I know I am not perfect.”
To focus solely on Trump or the flag is to miss Megan Rapinoe in full, to miss her blast away with forceful points, humor and impossible-to-ignore truths. It is to miss why she is so beloved across this game.
This kind of talk still ruffles feathers in the United States. It is a neutron bomb in some of these other places.
What she has become is not just a national figure, but a global one with the potential to become a historic figure in women’s sports everywhere. You could practically hear the gasp of FIFA leadership as she took every question and said what others won’t or can’t.
Someone asked her about how FIFA said it would double the prize money for the 2023 Women’s World Cup from $30 million to $60 million. It sounds good, except the men’s side is being raised by $40 million to a total of $440 million, so the pay gap is actually … increasing.
“If you truly care about the game, are you letting the gap grow?” she asked. “I’m not saying the prize money is $450 million this time or the next time around. I understand for a number of different reasons the men’s game financially is far advanced from the women’s game.
“But if you really care, are you letting the gap grow?” she asked. “... We should double it now and use that number to double it for the next time.”
Rapinoe also mocked FIFA for scheduling two other major men’s championships on Sunday, the Gold Cup final in North/Central America and the Caribbean, and also the Copa America final in South America. It’s the kind of thing that draws attention from the women and would never occur on the men’s side.
“This is the World Cup final,” Rapinoe said. “Cancel everything [that] day. I don’t know how that happened. I think I heard somewhere that they didn’t think about it, which is the problem. You didn’t think about it? The World Cup final is set so far in advance, it’s actually unbelievable.”
And there’s the endless challenge for more countries to invest in girls, to see them as equals, to encourage not just on the field success, but the kind of leadership and lessons that come from athletic competition.
“If you really care … are you letting federations have their teams play two games in the four years between each tournament?” Rapinoe asked. “No, you are not.”
FIFA is rich beyond comprehension. It has the money to do all sorts of things. It can pressure national federations. It’s never shown the will, though.
“You need attention and detail ... in the women’s game every single day,” Rapinoe said. “I understand it is a very complex problem to be a part of it, but the resources are there. The willingness and the brain power is all there. People wanting to work in the women’s game and make it as good as we can is all there. It’s just a matter of wanting to do it and making it happen.”
Her questions are direct. Her solutions are practical. She was asked about mandating that only women can coach women’s teams . She brushed it off and said the issue should be training young female coaches around the world so that there are more qualified candidates.
“So [women] get judged on their skills the way men are,” she said, noting the same should be true of female referees.
This is the biggest and the best Women’s World Cup ever. It was underpromoted, especially here in France. It succeeded in spite of FIFA, not because of it.
All it proved, she kept saying, is so much more is possible. That women everywhere deserve at least the opportunities they have in America.
“Investing in infrastructure, in training programs or academies for women, for coaching for women, for all of it,” she said.
Who could argue against that? Who could fault an American for focusing on the plight of others?
Her words were ringing out here, right under FIFA’s nose, right inside FIFA’s house, right at FIFA’s press conference. It's a long loathsome and corrupt organization that wants these women to take what they’ve been given and be quiet … shut up and dribble.
Megan Rapinoe is never shutting up.
She’s going to do everything she can to make the world listen to her, this American original with a megaphone and a heart that FIFA can’t silence.
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