FIFA Player of the Year Megan Rapinoe has urged the world’s male champions to join her in the fight against racism and sexism in modern soccer.
The 34-year-old midfielder challenged famous footballers Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to begin tackling social issues that are plaguing the game. “I want to shout: ‘Cristiano, Lionel, Zlatan, help me! These big stars do not engage in anything when there are so many problems in men’s football,” Rapinoe told France Football, organizers of Ballon d’Or. “Do they fear losing everything? They believe that, but it is not true. Who will erase Messi or Ronaldo from world football history for a statement against racism or sexism?”
Rapinoe was honored with the Ballon d’Or on Dec. 2, but was unable to attend. The award is significant because it’s the second year since the magazine opened the award to women— making her only the second female in history to receive one of the most prestigious individual awards in modern soccer.
For Rapinoe, making history is no unprecedented feat—on the field she led the USWNT to its second consecutive 2019 World Cup title in France where she won the Golden Boot as the top scorer and top player. Off the field, Rapinoe is a powerful voice against racism, sexism and homophobia, becoming the first white professional athlete to kneel for the US national anthem—joining former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s protest against racial and social injustice in the United States.
“I am both sad and angry, Rapinoe said. “I would describe discrimination to [Ronaldo, Messi, and Ibrahimovic]. I would also tell them we need support from men, even if they are not the first affected. They must be our allies.”
Messi, who is notoriously reluctant to say anything to the media beyond events on the field, was re-presented the prestigious Ballon d’Or for a record sixth time. In 2013, Ibrahimovic sparked controversy when he told reporters of Sweden women’s team, “With all respect for what the ladies have done, and they’ve done it fantastically well, you can’t compare men’s and women’s football. Give it up, it’s not even funny.”
Neither he nor Messi or Ronaldo have made any public statements in response to Rapinoe’s call out as of press time.
Rapinoe, who has been at the forefront of the USWNT’s fight for equal pay, says Ballon D’Or is a recognition of her success as an athlete and activist, “On the one hand, I am a good player. On the other, my activity away from the pitch brings me support as people understand I am acting to find solutions to our society’s problems. The idea is to empower others to speak louder.”