LYON, France — A cannonade of camera clicks made Megan Rapinoe stop for a second, pull her head back slightly and quietly say, “Whoa!” when she entered the room.
At least twice as many reporters and photographers compared to previous news conferences crammed into an auditorium at Stade de Lyon the day before Sunday’s World Cup final between the United States and Netherlands. She paused only a second before easing into her chair and taking on a range of questions with the comfortable and forthright demeanor she’s now known for.
First question: Many players on other teams think you’re an inspiration. How does that feel? And do you know how many players will go to the White House if you’re invited after the game?
Rapinoe didn’t blink, just smirked and chuckled.
“You trying to be sneaky?” she said before answering both parts of the question. “Admiration from your peers, it doesn’t get much better than that. We’re competitors off the field, but on the field we’re all on the same team fighting for the same things. It means a lot to me and to the team at large. We take a great deal of pride in doing our part to push the game forward.
“And I don’t know. I haven’t spoken to everyone about it. Obviously not myself, not Ali Krieger, and I suspect not many, if any, of the other players, but I haven’t spoken to every one of them about it.”
Rapinoe went on to talk about the strengths of Netherlands (winning in different ways, pedigree and experience at the European champion), the shortcomings of FIFA in growing the women’s game (lack of respect and investment), the close bond she has with her teammates (a topic that caused her to tear up), and, surprisingly given ongoing litigation, the credit U.S. Soccer deserves for advancing women’s soccer.
“Our federation is case in point of funding the team very well,” said Rapinoe, who is one of the leading voices in the USWNT’s federal class-action lawsuit against the federation for gender-based pay discrimination. “Obviously, I’m the first one to step up and fight with them and nudge them a little more, but they have backed us tremendously in comparison to every other federation in the world. I don’t think it’s close. I think that’s why we’ve been able to be as successful and as dominant for as long as we have.
“We don’t often give them kudos, but that’s definitely one I’m willing to give. They back the team in a very strong way and have pushed the game, not only in our country but around the world. … And we’ll continue to nudge them forward.”
Rapinoe wouldn’t say the same of FIFA, however. She liked FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s promises of increased investment a day earlier but thought they didn’t go far enough. She also was skeptical of the sincerity of those promises given FIFA has had to be pushed and prodded to invest in the women’s game over the years and still is allowing the World Cup prize money gap to grow.
When asked how Infantino’s pledge fits with the organization scheduling two men’s tournament finals — the Gold Cup and Copa America — on the same day as the World Cup final and whether FIFA respects the women’s game enough, Rapinoe clasped her hands together, smiled and said, “No. Of course not!”
“No. It’s terrible scheduling for everyone. Don’t you guys feel disrespected by that?” Rapinoe continued. “I mean, as somebody who works in football, somebody who plays in football, that’s a terrible idea to put everything on the same day, in every way. This is the World Cup final. This is, like, cancel-everything day. So, no. I don’t know how that happened. I think I heard somewhere that they just didn’t think about it, which … is the problem. It’s actually unbelievable. So no, I don’t think that we feel the same level of respect certainly that FIFA has for men and just in general.”
As far as the growing gap in prize money, Infantino said he wants to double the women’s pool of prize money from $30 million to $60 million by 2023. The men’s prize money will increase from $400 million last year in Russia to $440 million for 2022 in Qatar.
“It certainly is not fair. We should double it now and then use that number to double it, or quadruple it for the next time,” Rapinoe said. “That’s what I mean when we talk about, ‘Do we feel respected?’ Earlier in the year, maybe it was last year, a quote came out that I said, ‘FIFA doesn’t care about the women’s game.’ And that’s what I mean. So if you really care about each game in the same way, are you letting the gap grow? I’m not saying that the prize money is $450 million this time or next time around, ya know. I understand that for a lot of different reasons the men’s game financially is far more advanced than the women’s game.
“I understand it’s a very complex problem or complex thing to be a part of, but the resources are there. It’s all there; it’s just a matter of wanting to do it and caring enough about it to make it happen. I mean, we’re making a World Cup in Qatar happen. That shows you the kind of care they have for the men’s World Cup, considering all the issues they’ve been having there.”