September 24, 2019
Megan Rapinoe used her platform as the newly crowned player of the year at Fifa’s The Best awards to speak out against racism and homophobia, as well as the pay gap in football.
At the ceremony in Italy on Monday, Rapinoe gave nods to Iran’s “Blue Girl” Sahar Khodayari, LGBTQ players, the anti-racism campaigns of her fellow footballers Raheem Sterling and Kalidou Koulibaly, and the battle for equal pay.
“Stories that have inspired me most; Raheem Sterling and Kalidou Koulibaly, the young Iran woman who burnt to death, the one out MLS player, the out NWSL players,” she said during her acceptance speech.
She also urged others to use their voices to make changes in the game. “If we really want to have meaningful change, what I think is most inspiring would be if everybody other than Sterling and Koulibaly, if they were as outraged about racism as they were, if everybody was as outraged about homophobia as the LGBTQ players, if everybody was as outraged about the lack of equal pay and investment in the women’s game other than just women, that would be the most inspiring thing to me,” Rapinoe said.
“That’s my ask of everybody. We have such incredible opportunity, being professional football players … we have so much success … we have incredible platforms,” she said. “I ask everybody here to lend your platform, to lift people up, to use this beautiful game to change the world for better.”
The 34-year-old also said the fact that the women’s awards were announced after those of the men were a sign of progress. “Those are little subtle nods but those mean a lot when in past awards shows we haven’t even been here or been represented,” she said. “At certain times, if the men’s World Cup is on, we probably shouldn’t go last and that’s OK. I think catering to both in a way that elevates each sport when it’s at its highest is really special.”
Rapinoe was the top scorer at this year’s Women’s World Cup, as a member of the victorious US team. The team’s manager, Jill Ellis, was named coach of the year. She paid tribute to the effect Rapinoe has had on football.
“Pinoe’s so charismatic,” said Ellis. “I love it because she does utilise her platform and provokes people to look really hard at things we can influence and change in the world that we are in. So I think [Rapinoe’s speech] was great, it was terrific.”
Rapinoe’s speech was hotly anticipated – “it’s always loosely planned, loosely off the cuff,” she said with a grin – but she was not alone in broadening the conversation beyond football. The Fifa president, Gianni Infantino, condemned recent episodes of racism in Italian football.
“Gianni was stealing a little bit of my thunder, all of a sudden he’s a social activist,” she said with a smile. “[He talked] about a lot of the issues, which is amazing. I think we as a team and me personally are pushing Gianni to be more involved, and everyone in that room.”
Rapinoe has used her platform to challenge Donald Trump and push Fifa on investment. She said that although individual awards were satisfying, bringing change was more important. “The award is amazing, of course, but I don’t do this for individual awards,” she said. “Even the team awards, obviously the World Cup is incredible to win, but I think when we all look back on it it will be the way we’ve changed the game and moved the world forward and really been a part of changing the world with this incredible movement that’s happening right now we’ll all be most proud of.”
By the end of this year’s Women’s World Cup, Fifa’s investment in women’s football had been upped to $1bn and prize money for the tournament is to double. Rapinoe said the fight was not over, though.
“Yeah, I’m not happy yet, but I do feel like things are changing for sure,” said Rapinoe. “With the doubling of the prize money, the gap actually grew between this World Cup and the last World Cup. ‘Double’ sounds fancy and nice but we need a little bit more structure around the way that we are increasing things. A lot of eyes were opened up this summer to the potential of the women’s game.”