THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
They say don’t mix sport with politics. After all, sports have enough of their own in-house politics that sometimes drowns them. So, what to do when you need the politicians to listen, and take account for what is going on, when your own sport is dragging its heels on high profile issues?
Well, never short of an opinion and speaking her mind, Megan Rapinoe has taken matters into her own hands and addressed an issue that not only affects her sport of soccer but has wider reaching issues for athletes and beyond.
A veteran of Olympics and World Cups, Rapinoe took on a new opponent, Congress, tackling issues that will likely have a more lasting impact than the legacy of her soccer career. Standing in front of the House Committee of Oversight and Reform, she was talking about equal pay, a subject that has rumbled on for many years. Rapinoe is best known as the leader of the US Women’s Soccer team, and the last World Cup put her and her teammates in the public eye, with her brash, sometimes cocky attitude. But then if you can back it up with great performances you can afford to be open with your comments. This no doubt helped her cause when standing up in front of the country’s lawmakers.
“I am here today because I know first-hand that this is true. We are told in this country that if you just work hard and continue to achieve you will be rewarded, fairly. It is the promise of the American Dream. But that promise has not been for everyone,” she said at the podium, “The United States Women’s National Team has won four World Cup championships, and four Olympic Gold medals on behalf of our country. We have filled stadiums, broken viewing records, and sold-out jerseys, all popular metrics by which we are judged. Yet despite all of this, we are still paid less than the men. For each trophy, of which there are many, each win, each tie, each time we play. Less.”
Back in December the USWNT did reach an agreement, a somewhat landmark one, when they were allowed the same working conditions as their male colleagues - the basics that are taken for granted by the men were missing, such as travel, hotel accommodation, staffing, even down to the right to play and train on real grass as opposed to artificial turf. However, the one thing that they could not agree on was equal pay. A federal judge threw out their case in May, and since then an appeal has been lodged, which could result in millions of dollars in back pay from US Soccer.
“The overall pot of money is far larger, the overall available pot of money or possibility of the pot of money is much larger, for the men’s team. We earned close to them because we are capturing nearly all the pot of money available to us, whereas the men’s team is not,” Rapinoe went on to explain, “I feel like honestly we have done everything. You want stadiums filled? We filled them. You want role models for your kids, for your boys, for your girls, and your little trans kids? We have that. You want us to be respectful? You want us to perform on the world stage? With the lack of proper investment, we do not know the real potential of Women’s sports. What we know is how successful women’s sports have been in the face of discrimination, in the face of lack of investment in every level in comparison to men.”
Another item that Rapinoe was keen to talk on was that of the rights of the LBGTQ community. Recent bills have been passed in over 25 States across America that ban Trans youths from competing in certain sports that correspond with their gender and limits their access to gender-affirming healthcare. 13-year-old Kris Wilka is a trans boy living in South Dakota, one of those states.“They are acting like we aren’t humans, that we don’t deserve the same things as them,” Kris Wilka said.
Megan Rapinoe took her moment in Congress to highlight the issue, “As a member of the LBGTQ community, I firmly stand with the trans family. As someone who has played sports with someone who is trans I can assure you all is well. Nothing is spontaneously combusting. I think that is the reason we want our kids to play sports is for our incredible aspects and character building, and community building, and self-confidence building that happens in sports. And to completely cut out an entire section of people, I don’t think it’s appropriate.”
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