More than a year after US Soccer and the United States Women’s National Team (USWNT) brokered a landmark equal pay agreement, USWNT star player and two-time World Cup champion Megan Rapinoe is still coming to terms with the implications of what her team has achieved.
Following years of lawsuits and lobbying from players, the Federation last year agreed to a new 50-50 split in the way it pays men and women competing for the US national soccer teams, meaning both sides will receive the same pay and prize money, including for participating at World Cups.
“There was a relentlessness, and a refusal to accept anything other than what we felt like we deserved,” Rapinoe told WBD sports analyst Julie Foudy, adding she’s proud of “the group effort that it took.”
“It was almost like we couldn’t lose, I said that a lot. If the Federation won, everybody loses and if we win, everybody wins,” the two-time World Cup champion added.
Rapinoe said the team worked together and saw setbacks, not as losses, but as “just a step on the journey. Ultimately, I think that gave us a lot of confidence on the field as well – we were all in it together, we were all doing our part.”
“There’s something about feeling desperate that is really powerful, and I think, at times, we were,” she added, saying the team felt an immense pressure to win the Women’s World Cup in 2019 while battling to prove their worth off the field – they did, defending their 2015 title, beating The Netherlands in the final thanks to goals from Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle.
“We obviously want[ed] to win, professionally, as your sport, but there was some understanding of desperation there. We have this opportunity to grasp this moment, and I think [with] the combination of personalities, we knew that and we rose to that occasion,” she said.
The agreement has already changed the way remuneration works in US Soccer: the USWNT earned more money from its male equivalent reaching the knockout stages of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar than it did from winning its own tournaments in 2015 and 2019.
It also means the USMNT will pick up half of the USWNT’s prize money in the future.
Rapinoe reflected that when fighting for equal pay, the women’s team had a unique opportunity to make change as a collective, which in turn inspired women around the world who were having to push for changes on their own.
“What we’re most proud of is that it’s been something that people can see themselves in and gain confidence from,” she said.
“We’re in a really unique and special situation to be around a bunch of other elite women: that almost never happens,” she explained.
“If you’re the best at what you do, normally you’re one of one, or one of a few if you’re in a company, or if you’re in a C-suite position, most likely, you’re one of one or one of two. It’s not very often that you have 20-something women that are able to do that, so I think that women put themselves in there with us.”
Rapinoe said she has heard stories of women who asked for a raise based on the team’s success.
“It’s almost like they’re… getting that imagery of all of us standing behind them and having that confidence.
“We kind of realized early on that this was such a bigger movement that we were a part of. Yes, we’re one of the sort of ‘out front’ main players, even just in the soccer world or in the women’s sports world in general, we were a part of something so much bigger.
“I think other women who don’t necessarily have the ability to have a bunch of other women around them saw themselves in us and were able to use that as motivation and be on our team,” she said.
CNN’s Matt Foster, Zachary B. Wolf, Wayne Sterling and Jack Bantock contributed reporting