Outspoken Megan Rapinoe has golden touch in Women’s World Cup

Detroit News wire services

Lyon, France – A Women’s World Cup stirred by heated debates on politics, pay and technology saw the narratives fused in Sunday’s final by the undisputed and outspoken star of the tournament: Megan Rapinoe.

The United States' Megan Rapinoe holds the trophy for the Women's World Cup title.

By opening the scoring with a penalty awarded after a video review, Rapinoe claimed a sixth goal and – thanks to her assists – finished as the top scorer of the most-watched FIFA women’s tournament.

Winning the Golden Boot provided the player known for her individuality and activism with a platform for both after the 2-0 victory over the Netherlands.

The forward got to collect her scoring trophy before the main prize was handed out in Lyon.

But only after the introduction of French President Emmanuel Macron and FIFA counterpart Gianni Infantino for the on-field trophy presentation was followed by boos and chants of “equal pay,” – thousands taking up Rapinoe’s campaign for more equitable prize money from the World Cup organizers and compensation from the U.S. federation.

“A little public shame never hurt anyone,” Rapinoe said with a winners’ medal around her neck. “So I am down with it.”

More: Women's World Cup win inspires Detroit soccer players, thrills fans

Not down with a visit to the White House, though, with a rejection of a post-tournament visit delivered publicly in a video that emerged during the tournament.

“Megan should WIN first before she TALKS!” President Donald Trump responded in tweet that lit up the monthlong tournament. “Finish the job!”

Rapinoe and her American teammates did that by defending the World Cup.

In the hours before the game, she even found an advocate for the pursuit of greater pay equality in the French president.

“We need to go progressively toward that,” Macron said. “We should progressively converge.”

That is undermined by the prize money for the men’s World Cup in 2022 jumping to $440 million when the women’s teams will only split $60 million in 2023.

This time, it is only half that.

Victory gave the Americans $4 million – double the amount earned four years ago – as part of a $30 million prize pot but lagging the $38 million earned by France for lifting the men’s trophy last July in Moscow.

On the eve of the final, sitting in the same news conference position occupied by Infantino a day earlier, Rapinoe rebuked the head of soccer’s governing body for disrespecting women as the prize-money gulf widens with the winners of the men’s World Cups.

Rapinoe chose not to confront Infantino on the field.

“There was a wry smile, for sure,” she said. “He knows. He did say we’ll have a conversation or something. I said, ‘I’d love to.’”

Rapinoe has something to be thankful to Infantino for: the introduction of VAR, which has had a disruptive debut in women’s soccer as referees and players have adjusted to the new technology.

“VAR wouldn’t miss the final, she had to show up somewhere,” Rapinoe said. “It has gotten a lot of stick in the tournament. There’s some inconsistencies but this is the first time all these referees have actually used it. So overall I think it’s been pretty good.”

What has been less of a success were FIFA’s efforts at attracting fans to some games.

FIFA knows it has to do more to raise attendance. The sellout crowd of 58,000 on Sunday was a rarity.

In a month when FIFA challenged the world to “Dare to Shine,” efforts were dimmed by marketing mishaps around ticket promotions that saw swathes of empty seats in stadiums.

The choice of venue will be scrutinized more closely with FIFA now realizing going to stronger soccer cities – rather than Montpellier and Nice – could have produced fuller stadiums.

“A lot can be done to popularize our sport a bit more, like the men’s World Cup is kind of seen as a destination even for those that aren’t pure football fans,” said Sarai Bareman, FIFA’s head of women’s soccer. “We need to do a lot more to promote the game to attract that kind of fan.”

It’s a parade

New York City will throw a ticker-tape parade this week for the U.S. women’s national soccer team, Mayor Bill De Blasio’s office announced shortly after the team clinched its fourth World Cup title.

“You have inspired the entire country – and New York City knows how to celebrate champions,” De Blasio said on Twitter.

Congratulations poured in from notables including former President Barack Obama, who called the U.S. lineup “an incredible team that’s always pushing themselves,” first lady Melania Trump, talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman.

President Donald Trump, who’s scheduled to return Sunday afternoon from a weekend at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, added his congratulations, telling the team that “America is proud of you all!”