Football superstar Megan Rapinoe has used a congressional hearing to hit out at sports organisations in the United States for failing to address their unequal treatment of male and female athletes.
Ms Rapinoe is the captain of Reign FC in America’s domestic competition, the National Women’s Soccer League.
She has won two World Cups and an Olympic gold medal with the US Women’s National Team (USWNT). She was awarded the Golden Ball for being the best player at the 2019 World Cup, the Golden Boot for being its top scorer, and was named the women’s world player of the year.
Off the field, she has been an outspoken advocate for equal pay, and was highly involved in a gender discrimination lawsuit the USWNT players filed against the US Soccer Federation (USSF) in 2019.
The players argued they had suffered lower pay and inferior work conditions compared to their male counterparts, even though their games generated more revenue for the sport.
A judge ruled against the players on the question of equal pay – they have appealed that decision – and they reached a settlement with the USSF on other matters such as travel and accommodation conditions.
Today, Ms Rapinoe appeared before the House Oversight Committee as it held a hearing on gender inequality.
“Equal pay and equality in general is a deep and personal passion of mine,” Rapinoe said in her opening statement.
“What we’ve learned, and what we continue to learn, is that there is no level of status, accomplishments or power that will protect you from the clutches of inequity. One cannot simply outperform inequality of any kind. I know first-hand that this is true.
“The Women’s National Team has won four World Cup championships and four Olympic gold medals on behalf of our country. We have filled stadiums, broken viewing records and sold out jerseys. Yet despite all of this, we are still paid less than men, for each trophy, each win, each tie, each time we play.
“And if that can happen to us, to me, with the brightest lights shining on us, it can and it does happen to every person who is marginalised by gender.”
Rapinoe said the women’s team had accomplished everything asked of it in recent years.
“I feel like, honestly, we’ve done everything,” she said.
“You want stadiums filled? We filled them. You want role models for your kids, for your boys and your girls, and your little trans kids? We have that. You want us to be respectful? You want us to perform on the world stage? You want us to take the stars and stripes across the entire globe and represent America in the best way possible?
“We’ve done all of that. And simply, there’s no reason why we’re underpaid, with the exception of gender.”
She directly targeted the USSF, accusing it of working against equality instead of backing its female players.
“Instead of lobbying with the women’s team and our efforts for equal pay and equality in general, the US Soccer Federation has continually lobbied against our efforts and the efforts of millions of people marginalised by gender in the United States,” she said.
“With the lack of proper investment, we don’t know the real potential of women’s sports.
“What we know is how successful women’s sports have been in the face of discrimination, in the face of lack of investment in every level in comparison to men.”
The testimony today happened shortly after a gender controversy erupted at March Madness, a billion-dollar college basketball tournament.
Ali Kershner, a performance coach at Stanford, highlighted the discrepancy between the weights facilities provided to men’s and women’s players in an Instagram post. While the men received a giant floor space filled with various types of weights, the women were given just a single rack of small dumbbells and a pile of yoga mats.
“Not usually one for this type of post but this deserves attention,” Ms Kershner wrote.
“This is the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament vs. Women’s Basketball tournament bubble set up.
“This needs to be addressed. These women want and deserve to be given the same opportunities.
“Not only that – three weeks in a bubble and no access to DBs (dumbbells) above 30 (pounds – 13kg) until the sweet 16? In a year defined by a fight for equality this is a chance to have a conversation and get better.”
The issue was also highlighted by players such as Oregon’s Sedona Prince.
Making matters worse, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), which regulates student athletes and athletic programs in the US and organises the March Madness tournament, tried to blame the discrepancy on “limited space”.
“We acknowledge that some of the amenities teams would typically have access to have not been as available inside the controlled environment,” the NCAA’s vice president of women’s basketball Lynn Holzman said.
“In part, this is due to the limited space and the original plan was to expand the workout area once additional space was available later in the tournament. However, we want to be responsive to the needs of our participating teams, and we are actively working to enhance existing resources at practice courts, including additional weight training equipment.”
The NCAA has since improved the women’s weight facilities, and the organisation’s president Mark Emmert has promised a review.
That didn’t stop Rapinoe from calling out the NCAA, and Mr Emmert by name, during today’s hearing.
“For an organisation like the NCAA, similar to the US Soccer Federation, that’s a non-profit, it’s just absolutely unacceptable,” she said.
“To say that you value your student athletes, to have your women’s players show up for one rack of dumbbells is just completely unacceptable. Someone, at some point, thought to themselves that was OK.
“For Mark Emmert and the NCAA, you just simply have to do better. And I’ll say that even the ‘new weight room’ that the women’s team has is still unacceptable. It’s not to the standard needed to perform at that level.”
Later in the day, Rapinoe and other members of the women’s football team visited the White House and met with US President Joe Biden to mark Equal Pay Day.