Sports are so often considered an escape from day to day life for some people, but in reality they are merely a microcosm of society. For all the issues that exist in the world, sports amplify these issues and when athletes try to speak on these issues, they’re often told to “stick to sports,” because it’s supposedly not their place. In fact, athletes should be speaking on these issues and trying to enact change, and that is exactly why Megan Rapinoe’s speech at FIFA’s The Best awards was so important.
Megan Rapinoe stole the show at the Women’s World Cup this past summer, earning the Golden Ball and Golden Boot awards as well as leading the United States to victory. Both on and off the field, Rapinoe continues to be a beacon for football itself, contributing to movements for equal pay, LGBTQ representation and so much more. Her speech at Monday’s award show, after winning the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year award, served as a reminder of the roles athletes should play.
She reflected on the stories that inspired her throughout the past year or so, naming Raheem Sterling and Kalidou Koulibaly for their efforts in combating the racism they continue to face. She named Minnesota United midfielder Collin Martin, who came out as openly gay in June of 2018, as well as the tons of LGBTQ women playing around the world. Rapinoe also mentioned the story of Sahar Khodayari, an Iranian woman who was arrested for trying to enter a football stadium in Iran. Khodayari’s story gained worldwide attention before she sadly died in early September after setting herself on fire.
Rapinoe went on to say that while these stories inspired her, they upset her at the same time and it was on the entire footballing community to come together to create change.
“What I think is most inspiring, would be if everybody other than Raheem Sterling and [Kalidou] Koulibaly, if they were as outraged about racism as they were. If everyone was as outraged about homophobia as the LGBTQ players. If everyone was as outraged about equal pay, or the lack thereof, or the lack of investment in the women’s game other than just women. That would be the most inspiring thing to me.”
She went on to highlight the “incredible opportunity” that professional footballers have with their success and platforms. She said, “lend your platform to other people, lift other people up, share your success.”
Rapinoe is correct for laying down this challenge to footballers around the world, both men and women. Unlike any other sport, football has the power to create worldwide change and it is on players to stand by those who need it and to pick people up when they are down. Now more than ever before, players have the platforms to make a difference and fight back against racism, homophobia, sexism, and so much more. It is so incredibly important for players to be allies and to show their support while the voices of those discriminated against are amplified. Football should be a sport that can be enjoyed by all, but that cannot happen until everyone comes together to combat these issues.
Megan Rapinoe has dominated headlines throughout 2019, for both her on field ability and off field work, and we can only hope that players throughout the men’s and women’s accept her challenge and follow suit to use their incredible platforms.
By: Harry Harris
Photo: Elsa/Getty Images