Nobody wants bitter goodbyes. Nobody wants to miss a decisive penalty. Nobody wants to end their career after a bittersweet defeat. “Soccer is sometimes cruel,” said Megan Rapinoe (38) after the US match against Sweden that crushed the pass to the quarterfinals and the dreams of the Americans to retain their title as world champions for the third time in a row. His Ballon d’Or in 2019, his two world titles with the national team and his latest achievement, the Presidential Medal of Freedom last year, testify to the great Californian player, who says goodbye to football after 14 years behind the ball. But there is much more to her behind the sport: an incessant fight for the rights of minorities, LGTBIQ + people, racialized people, for equal pay and the visibility of mental health. Now, she steps to the side and walks away from the playing fields. “I get to have another role”, she completed her in the announcement of her withdrawal.
The World Cup in Australia and New Zealand has reminded us that myths are not eternal. But his legacy does. The early abandonment of the USA in the World Cup, a pioneer of the soccer feminine, is not the only one that leaves intergenerational referents orphaned. Brazil, the international pearl eliminated in the group stage by Jamaica, was forced to say goodbye to Marta Vieira (37), the perpetual Brazilian number 10 and his most emblematic player. For many she was simply Marta. Without last name. She went from being called The Pelé with Skirt to give a name and a face to women’s football. Marta symbolizes the fight against the institutions, against FIFA and her own federation. Against the press, to whom she spoke clearly in her last appearance in the previous one against Jamaica, without knowing that shortly after they would be eliminated from the World Cup. “When I started playing I didn’t have a female idol. You did not show women’s football ”, she tearfully lashed out at the journalists. “Today we go out into the street and people stop us. They tell us ‘my daughter adores you, she wants to be like you’. We have opened doors for equality ”, commented the Brazilian, who played for the first time in a World Cup in 2003 and this was her sixth participation as an absolute international.
Rapinoe, more than a pioneer in rights
Rapinoe is easy to recognize by her mythical short pink hair -now with greenish tones-, and by her elaborate and technical style of play. With the national team number 15 on her back and the captain’s armband, she is a midfielder with an obsession on the pitch: scoring goals. Outside, she is a pioneer in the fight for equal pay and the defense of minorities. No cause is left out of her wings. He challenged Donald Trump, openly, after beating France in the World Cup in 2019 and winning the Golden Boot. “I will not go to the fucking White House,” shared the American, who after lifting the World Cup, offered a speech in front of of thousands of people who witnessed the social legacy he was building: “it is our responsibility to make the world a better place. Yes, we do sports. Yes, we are footballers. But we are more than all that.”
Rapinoe marked a before and after for LGTBIQ+ women in soccer. It was in 2012, before the Olympic Games, when she openly explained that she was homosexual in the magazine Out by announcing his relationship with the Australian Sarah Walsh. Years later, in 2020, he got engaged and married to basketball player Sue Bird (42). Since then, he has led a long upward struggle with various campaigns against homophobia and transphobia and, above all, in defense of minors. That is why in 2022 he jumped onto the Texas field with a powerful message: Protect Trans Kids. In the field, his gestures were observed with a magnifying glass. In 2016, he supported American football player Colin Kaepernick, who took a knee at the United States anthem in protest against police violence. Like Kaepernick, Rapinoe took a knee in various league games. Criticism was not long in coming. “Conservative commentators in the media immediately started yelling that kneeling during the anthem was disrespectful to the military,” Rapinoe explains in his book.
In 2020 his campaign for equality took another dimension with the Equal Pay for Equal Play. Her militant activism – she called herself a “walking protest” – against wage inequality led to an agreement being reached with the Soccer Federation in February last year to compensate the players of the US national team. Historically, men were paid $5,000 per match, while women were only paid if they defeated teams ranked in the FIFA top 10. The managers, after the case was taken to a federal body, approved a payment of 24 million dollars: 22 million would be distributed to the active soccer players, and the other two when they retired. With Rapinoe as the leader of the US team, they not only achieved unbeaten status, but also social advances and a first stone for many national teams and teams that compete at a high level.
Marta, from the Brazilian illusion in the nineties to world records
Marta was taught that it was not normal for a girl to play soccer. But she never wanted to learn it. Fast forward, of Brazilian dribbling and spouting soccer. The Brazilian legend left, early at the age of 14, three days by bus to Rio de Janeiro to play for Vasco de Gama, in pursuit of her dreams. Four years later she made the leap to Europe, and since 2017 she has played for Orlando Prisa. After a career of more than two decades, she has managed to be the top scorer in Brazil -with around 120 goals, more than the 77 goals scored by Pelé and Neymar- and the player who has scored the most goals in a World Cup, female or male, with 17 goals in 20 games. Ballon d’Or in 2010, the top scorer at the World Cups attended five Olympic Games, three Copa América and one Women’s Champions League.
It changed the norms for an entire generation. And those that have followed. Revolutionary in front of the microphones and in the field. In his fight to achieve equality, since 2019 he refused to use boots sponsored by sports brands with the aim of raising awareness about the difference in level they offer men and women. “You are not going to have a Marta forever. Women’s football depends on you to survive. You have to cry at the beginning to smile, ”she said after the round of 16 elimination against hosts France at the 2019 World Cup.
Marta addressed the girls, the future of the feminine. While the two historic players are ending their career on the pitch, other young pearls are taking their first international steps. Casey Phair (16, Republic of Korea) is the youngest player called up for the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. They are followed by players like Giulia Dragoni (16) who made her debut with the Italian team and became the new star by leading her team from midfielder. Linda Caicedo, Salma Paralluelo, Alyssa Thompson. Young names that resonate in the World Cup. Rapinoe and Marta were always much more than soccer players. They, as players, end up here, but women’s football continues to grow. Marta is clear about it: “For them it is only the beginning, for me it is the end”.
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