Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe, May 2019. Photo: Jamie Smed

Shadia Edwards-Dashti, journalist and Actonians football player, highlights the significance of women’s football beyond the pitch

“I deserve this” were the words of World Cup winning captain Megan Rapinoe in a video that’s gone viral during the “badass” national team’s welcome back parade in New York on Wednesday. Clutching the trophy in her left hand, bottle of Bollie in her right she adopts a legendary power stance and looks directly into the camera and screams, “I deserve this! I deserve this. Everything.”

It goes without saying that Rapinoe is now a household name – even in the White House. Of course, the biggest opposition wasn’t finalists the Netherlands, which Rapinoe lead her team to a 2-0 victory against, but U.S. President Donald Trump.

Months before the tournament the left winger both on the pitch and in politics was asked whether she’d visit the official residence of the President. “I’m not going to the fucking White House,” she replied with no hesitation whatsoever.

From the moment the words left her mouth, her ball skills, her scoring record, even her team being – pains me to say it – favourites to win, all became footnotes. She was the headline of the tournament. And it hadn’t even begun.

Every match she played became a debate about equality, sexuality, socialism and race. And as we know, every time she’s put on the spot she delivers, regardless whether it’s a penalty or a protest. In 2016 Rapinoe took a knee during the national anthem in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback who paved the way protesting like this against police brutality in the States. While he’s a black man and she’s a gay white woman, both used their platform to speak out on behalf of marginalized communities. It’s not an easy move to make such a powerful symbolic gesture but she says that’s what it takes and that progress is hard. It’s true, it’s very hard. Taking to twitter, Trump told her to be proud of the flag she wears… but in her very own words, she’s a “walking protest” when it comes to the Trump administration.

Her battle doesn’t just lie with the bigotry, racism and sexism of Donald Trump – Rapinoe and her team have long been battling for equal pay for women soccer players and have sued the United States Soccer Federation for pay discrimination. When FIFA president Gianni Infantino was handing out winning medals, the crowd chanted “equal pay, equal pay.” What an iconic moment, and here’s why: the prize money for the 2018 men’s tournament was a whopping $400 million, but for the women this year, it was a measly $30 million. Even though it’s the ladies raking in the cash, with U.S. women’s jerseys being the highest sold in Nike, not to mention soaring television ratings. But if that’s not blatant enough, Megan’s got more beef with Gianni after Fifa scheduled the Gold Cup and Copa America finals on the same day as the World Cup final.

Could it get worse? Well yes, for female ballers it does… because we’re gay too. We will dine daily on a main course of sexism, and a side salad of homophobia.

Less than 48 hours after winning the Women’s World Cup in France posters of Megan Rapinoe were vandalized with homophobic captions in one of New York City’s central subway stations. Her response? Well with her unflinching acts of protest she took to the podium during the parade celebrations and said “We’ve got white girls and black girls, and everything in between. Straight girls and gay girls.” Concluding her speech with “you can’t win without gays.” As a football player myself, I have to agree that that is a “scientific fact”.

Back across the pond in the UK, us Lioness supporters could take a leaf out of the U.S. national team supporters’ books in more ways than one. Yes, England’s semi-final defeat was watched by 11.7 million, not only being the most viewed women’s football match in the UK but topped television viewings altogether in 2019. And yes, my local pub attracted the very same scenes of beer flying, shouting and cheering as that of the Men’s World Cup last summer. But while it’s great that people have been turning on their TVs to watch, it doesn’t translate into support.

And it doesn’t generate income for smaller clubs where players are having to juggle two jobs, childcare and a football career! Look at the really poor attendances at the games in France… Support means bums on seats. Bums on seats generates income. Income is a step closer to equality.

So much has changed in just a few years, and so many girls are taking up the sport, but there’s still such a long, long way to go. The battle of women’s football is way beyond the opposition 11 players on the pitch. Our game is intersectional, our game is resistance, our game is a movement. If Rapinoe has taught us anything, we all have a position to play on and off the pitch…

Not only did she win the World Cup Golden Ball (best player) and Golden Boot (scoring the most goals), she put the fight for putting women’s rights, equality, gay pride and race back in the spotlight. By telling Trump that his message excludes people, she included us all. And for that, she really does deserve everything. When Rapinoe stepped up to the penalty spot in the World Cup final and dinked the ball into the back of the net helping secure the title… we all knew that kick was important; but the kicks back against Trump are the real game changers.