It was an acceptance speech like no other.
USWNT star Megan Rapinoe praised Raheem Sterling for his continuing fight against racism and urged a host of leading footballers and coaches to use their platform as worldwide stars to “change the world for better” after being named The Best FIFA Women’s Player of the Year on Monday.
Rapinoe won the award thanks to her performances in the USA’s World Cup-winning campaign – from which she emerged with both the Golden Boot and Golden Ball for top scorer and best player – beating teammate Alex Morgan and England’s Lucy Bronze.
The 34-year-old Rapino said she drew inspiration from Manchester City’s Sterling, Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly and Iran’s ‘Blue Girl,’ who set herself on fire and later died after being charged with “‘openly committing a sinful act by appearing in public without a hijab’” when she attempted to enter a stadium “dressed as a man” in March.
“I was going to say some of the stories that have inspired me most this year; Raheem Sterling and Koulibaly [for] their incredible performances on the field, but the way that they’ve taken on the disgusting racism that they have to face this year, but probably for their whole lives,” Rapinoe said at the FIFA awards ceremony at La Scala in Milan
“The young Iranian woman who eventually set herself on fire because she wasn’t able to go to the game. The one out MLS player, Mr. [Collin] Martin, and the countless other female out LGBTQ players who fight so hard every day just to play the sport that they love, but be also fight the rampant homophobia that we have.
“Those are all the stories that inspire me so much. But they also admittedly make me a little bit sad and a little bit disappointed.”
Sterling has become a leader and the face of the fight against racism in English football and has arguably done more than anybody else in Britain to promote racial discourse.
After being racially abused by Chelsea fans at Stamford Bridge in December 2018, he uploaded a post to Instagram highlighting the difference in the way the media speaks about young black players and white players.
His voice was once again called upon in March following England’s 5-1 victory over Montenegro, during which Sterling and teammates Danny Rose and Callum Hudson-Odoi were racially abused.
Koulibaly also used social media to denounce racism after he was subjected to monkey chants against Inter Milan in December last year, writing: “I am proud of the color of my skin. Proud to be French, Senegalese, Neapolitan: a man.”
However, Rapinoe said that it shouldn’t be just down to those individuals to fight alone.
“I feel like if we really want to have meaningful change, what I think is most inspiring would be if everybody other than Raheem Sterling and Koulibaly were as outraged about racism as they were,” Rapinoe said.
“If everybody else was as outraged about homophobia, as the LGBTQ players, if everybody was as outraged about equal pay, or the lack thereof, or the lack of investment in the women’s game other than just women.
“That would be the most inspiring thing to me. I feel like that’s my ask of everybody, we have such an incredible opportunity being professional football players.
“We have so much success, financial and otherwise, we have incredible platforms. I asked everyone here, because I think everyone in this room has that crown that they’re bearing, lend your platform to other people, lift other people up, share your success.
“We have a unique opportunity in football, different to any other sport in the world, to use this beautiful game to actually change the world for better. So that’s my charge to everyone. I hope you take that to heart and just do something, do anything. We have incredible power in this room.”
Elsewhere, Lionel Messi edged out Cristiano Ronaldo and Virgil van Dijk to be crowned The Best FIFA Men’s Player, while Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp and USWNT boss Jill Ellis were crowned The Best FIFA Coaches.
Klopp used his win to announce he would be joining Common Goal by pledging 1% of his salary to organizations that use football to help create social change.