Women soccer players campaigning for equality mean they are “playing two games at the same time,” says former United States winger Megan Rapinoe.
Her career ended with an exit in the last 16 at the Women’s World Cup and she says some “had been waiting for this stumbling block”.
Rapinoe also criticized the “misogyny and sexism” of Luis Rubiales, President of the Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) during their victory in the final.
“It made me think about how much we have to go through,” Rapinoe said.
Spain’s 1–0 win over England in Sydney was overshadowed by Rubiales kissing Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the presentation ceremony.
That came after Rubiales grabbed his crotch as he celebrated victory at the final whistle in the VIP area of Stadium Australia, near Queen Letizia of Spain and her 16-year-old daughter.
Spain coach Jorge Vilda survived a player riot last September, when the RFEF said 15 players submitted identical emails saying they would not play for him unless there were “significant” concerns about their “emotional state” and “health” taken away.
However, the RFEF continued to support Vilda and put ‘VILDA IN’ on Spain’s official X account following their World Cup win.
In an interview with American magazine The Atlantic, two-time World Cup winner Rapinoe said: “Think about how much that Spanish team had to bring in: some of the players who came on last year are still not in the team. Maybe that was something that stimulated them, but you shouldn’t have that.
“There was another image that signals such a deep level of misogyny and sexism in that federation and in that man (Rubiales) who just grabs his crotch at the final whistle.
“What kind of upside-down world are we in? On the biggest stage, where you’re supposed to be partying, Jenni has to be physically assaulted by this guy.”
Rubiales apologized on Monday for kissing Hermoso, but Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said his apologies are “not enough”, while Second Deputy Prime Minister Yolanda Diaz joined those calling for him to resign.
‘We play together to achieve equality and progress’
Rapinoe and the rest of the US squad filed a lawsuit over discrimination over pay and working conditions shortly before retaining their World Cup title in 2019.
It was finally settled in February 2022 when US Soccer promised equal pay for the men’s and women’s teams in all competitions.
England players had to suspend discussions about performance-related bonuses until after the World Cup, while the Australian squad criticized the gender gap in prize money.
World Cup preparations for Jamaica, Nigeria and South Africa were all disrupted by disputes over wages and facilities.
Rapinoe, the 2019 Women’s Ballon d’Or winner, added: “What I’ve realized for a long time is that we’re playing two games at the same time. First, we’re all playing each other, and then the other side are playing we all together to achieve equality and progress and what we deserve.
“We want these other teams to be paid equally and given the resources they deserve, and not be subjected to misogyny, racism and sexism. If that comes at the expense of our own dominance, yes, we want that.
“It’s our responsibility to keep pushing the game forward, and I’m very proud that the World Cup is what it is now compared to four or eight years ago. I’m very proud when I see teams speaking for themselves.”
‘They want women to believe you can’t fight for things’
Then US President Donald Trump told Rapinoe not to be “contemptuous of our country” after saying she would not visit the White House if the US won the 2019 World Cup.
The 38-year-old Rapinoe announced before this year’s tournament that she would retire at the end of the season, ending her international career with a defeat to Sweden on penalties in her 202nd appearance for the US.
Trump was among those to criticize the team after its exit from the last 16, calling it a “shocking and totally unexpected loss”.
“The speed at which those comments got into the atmosphere…it’s like they’ve just been waiting since, I don’t know, 2016, 2019?” said Rapinoe.
“They’ve been waiting for this team to stumble. But when we’re perfect, we’re accused of thinking we’re perfect.
“They want women to believe that you can’t fight for things and be excellent; you can’t ask for what you deserve and then be successful.
“But the reality is we do. Beyonce does that. Taylor Swift does that. Coco Gauff does that. We’re still great on the field, and we’re fighting for equality, and it’s better for our bottom line and the bottom line of the sport.”
The US and Sweden played a goalless draw in Melbourne before the shootout met a sudden death, with Rapinoe being one of three US players to miss their penalty kick. It would prove to be her final touch in international football.
“I’d take that one again. I would choose me,” she added.
“I’ve thought long and hard about missing one at a really big time. What are you going to do? All you can do is not take one. I’m not going to.”
“I’d rather get up and be in that moment, and I think that’s something that made the criticism after that loss especially false and disingenuous, absurd and outrageous for me. It’s like you’re going to bash me for going out there have come and do my best?”