U.S. women’s national team star Megan Rapinoe headlined the 2019 FIFA Best Awards, earning the Best Women’s Player award for the first time in her career. The midfielder took home the award after earning the Golden Boot during the World Cup in France.
Rapinoe used her moment on stage to call for the players in the room to stand for more on and off the field. She pointed to examples of players such as Collin Martin, Sahar Khodayari and Raheem Sterling, who have faced racism, homophobia and sexism in the sport as a source of both inspiration and disappointment.
“Those are all the stories that inspire me so much,” Rapinoe said. “They also admittedly make me a little bit sad and a little bit disappointed. I feel like if we really want to have meaningful change, what I think is most inspiring would be if everybody else was as outraged about racism as they are. If everybody was as outraged about homophobia as the LGBTQ players. If everybody was as outraged about equal pay or the lack there of or the lack of investment in the women’s game other than just women.”
In calling for the football community to take a stand against bigotry, Rapinoe challenged the players and coaches gathered to use their platforms to further these issues.
“We have such an incredible opportunity being professional football players,” Rapinoe said. “I ask everyone here … lend your platform to other people, lift other people up, share your success. We have a unique opportunity in football different to any other sport in the world to use this beautiful game to actually change the world for better. Do something, do anything. We have incredible power in this room.”
Before presenting Lionel Messi with his sixth Best Men’s Player award, FIFA President Gianni Infantino also addressed bigotry in the sport. Infantino spoke out against racist incidents that have occurred throughout European football games this season.
“This is not acceptable anymore,” Infantino said. “We have to say this. We have to say no to racism in any form. No to racism in football, racism in society. We have to kick racism out once and for all. Out of football and out of society.”
Infantino also took the opportunity to pledge the organization’s commitment to furthering the women’s game after the success of the World Cup. Infantino also spoke about the Iranian ban on women in football, which keeps women from entering stadiums to attend matches.
At the next international match for the Iranian national team, Infantino said, the federation will allow women to enter the stadium to watch the game for the first time in history.
“Women’s football is not women’s football,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said. “It’s football. It’s played with passion, it’s played with heart. It makes all of our hearts beat as well… We will make sure that women’s football is side by side with men’s football at all levels.”
U.S. women’s national team head coach Jill Ellis earned the award for Best Women’s Coach after becoming the first coach to ever win two Women’s World Cup trophies. Ellis announced in June that she would step down from the position following the victory.
“What a ride,” Ellis said. “[The World Cup] really was a showcase, it was spectacular. I think the world fell even more in love with our game.”
This night is making us so emotional. pic.twitter.com/kg4Z9lvSiB
— U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) September 23, 2019
The NWSL was well-represented at the event — Orlando Pride strikers Marta and Alex Morgan were both nominated for Best Women’s Player. Both were also recognized as part of the FIFA Starting XI, along with Kelley O’Hara, Rose Lavelle and Julie Ertz.
I don’t think I lie when I say, get you a team that can do both.
W O W 🤩 pic.twitter.com/WlCSGEEgYz
— U.S. Soccer WNT (@USWNT) September 23, 2019
Netherlands goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal — who notched seven saves in the World Cup final to fend off the furious U.S. attack — earned a place in the Starting XI as the first Best Women’s Goalkeeper. The rest of the group was rounded out by French stars Amandine Henry and Wendy Renard and English captain Lucy Bronze.
New U.S. women’s national team manager Kate Markgraf presented the award for best men’s coach, which went to Jürgen Klopp.
The night was filled with heartwarming moments as well. Orlando Pride defender Carson Pickett attended the event along with Joseph Tidd, a 1-year-old fan who she has bonded with during the current season. Both were both born without a left hand, and the shared connection made Tidd a fan of Pickett on and off the pitch.
FIFA invited the pair to attend the event, and Pickett walked the red carpet and sat with Tidd throughout the evening.
— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) September 23, 2019
Brazilian Silvia Grecco earned the 2019 FIFA Fan Award, a distinction for an outstanding supporter of the game. Grecco attends Palmeiras matches with her son, Nikollas, who was born without his sight. Since Nikollas can’t follow the action with his eyes, Silvia narrates the games in vivid detail in the stands.
Before the awards ceremony, the mother and son had the chance to meet fellow Brazilian Marta.
— FIFA Women's World Cup (@FIFAWWC) September 23, 2019
Marcelo Bielsa and Leeds United won the FIFA Fair Play for an incident that occurred in its League Championship game against Villa in April. After a violent foul injured a Villa player, Leeds scored a goal due to the extra man advantage. Bielsa instructed his team to allow their opponents to score an unchallenged goal to level the score at 1-1.