Megan Rapinoe uses World Cup platform to promote equality in women's sports

By Chelsea Howard 25 May 2019 2428
Megan Rapinoe uses World Cup platform to promote equality in women's sports

Among the list of desires the U.S. Women's National Team hopes to accomplish while in France for the Women's World Cup next month comes the goal of growing gender equality within the sport. 

It's been a conversation throughout the year as the national team filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation in March, claiming there's institutionalized gender discrimination between the women's and the men's game. 

Just two weeks before the World Cup kicks off, star forward Megan Rapinoe stirred the conversation even more as she expressed dissatisfaction with FIFA and the progress — or lack thereof —  the global soccer leader has made in developing the women's game. Rapinoe explained FIFA is "not doing nearly enough" to create equality and change.

"I think there have been strides that have been made, but in terms of (FIFA's) capacity for change and the ability for them to change — obviously they have essentially unlimited resources — I don’t think that it’s really been a huge change at all," Rapinoe told reporters Friday.

"The incremental change that we’ve seen is just not enough and I don’t think that’s really the model that needs to happen. I would like to see a major paradigm shift and sort of a major overhaul and kind of a double-down realizing that there has been such a lack of investment for all of these years and such a lack of care and attention that double or tripling or quadrupling investment care, attention to the women’s game I think would be appropriate. To make incremental change obviously leaves the game wanting more and is not nearly enough at this time."

One example of "incremental change" that Rapinoe referred to is the fact that FIFA doubled the prize money for the women to $30 million from the amount four years ago, and $4 million will go to the winning team this year. But when you compare that to the men's World Cup, it's significantly less. The winners of the men's World Cup received $38 million from a $400 million pool in 2018, and FIFA has already raised the men's pool to $440 million for 2022.

"I think it's pretty clear women in sport have not been treated with the same care and financing and all of that that men's sports has," she said. "So I don't think anyone's really arguing about that anymore."

Rapinoe went on to say she believes there needs to be more of an effort to differentiate the women's game from the men's. She used the NBA as an example and explained that what may work in the NBA, doesn't necessarily work in the WNBA.

"The big miss that happens in women’s sports is trying to replicate the model that has been done on the men’s side," Rapinoe told reporters. "I think it is a different product, and to be honest, it’s quite lazy as well.

"I think that a thoughtful approach specific to women to the women’s game and that sort of environment around it needs to be taken to bring that game to a higher level. I don’t think you can do exactly what you do on the men’s side and do it on the women’s side. ... Using business acumen and cultural acumen to think about what our sport would need. But I think doing the same exact thing and trying to replicate that within the system that has kept women down for a long time is probably not the best way to go about it."

U.S. coach Jill Ellis acknowledged she's aware of many of the social issues the USWNT faces and explained that the issues have never gotten in the way of her team's performance. Instead, the national team has been united and worked together to encourage change.

"It's not this divide. It's very much a cohesive unit," Ellis told reporters. "It doesn't enter the locker room. It doesn't enter the meeting space. We're working together and making this work and, yeah, I understand. I'm a woman. I have a young daughter. I understand a lot of the bigger social issues out there in terms of that. But I also know right now the job is to get the team focused and they are focused."

As for the future of the sport? Rapinoe hopes it'll be "so much better than it is now" in the next couple of decades.

“I hope the league is in a better place, more robust. This team hopefully continues to grow, continues to be successful," Rapinoe said. "Off the field, just continue to breakdown stereotypes and push through what it means to be an athlete as a female, not necessarily a female athlete. But to be a woman and be an athlete at the same time. Hopefully we can continue to evolve what that means and what that looks like."

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Chelsea Howard

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