Give the Megan Rapinoe liberal love-in a rest – it’s a tiresome distraction from the football
For a tournament already burdened with its billing as a defining moment for the women’s game, the World Cup in France now has the extra baggage of having to set the world to rights and overthrow Donald Trump.
As the tournament reaches what promises to be a thrilling conclusion, one figure more than any other has come to dominate the headlines: US co-captain Megan Rapinoe.
On the pitch, Rapinoe was the two-goal hero of her team’s win against France in the quarterfinal in Paris on Friday night, scoring once in each half as the US ran out 2-1 winners.
Off the pitch, Rapinoe has made waves for her spat with Donald Trump, after comments emerged in which she said she was “not going to the f***ing White House” should the US president extend the team the courtesy of a visit if they win the World Cup.
Trump, naturally, did not let the remark pass, replying that Rapinoe should “win first before she talks,” then inviting the US women’s team to the White House anyway in one of those gestures of faux magnanimity he does so well.Also on rt.com Donald Trump warns U.S. Women's World Cup star Megan Rapinoe not to 'disrespect' the flag
If Trump’s comeback was predictable, then the subsequent liberal love-in over Rapinoe was even more foreseeable.
The footballer is, after all, such a blindingly obvious, ready-made left-wing darling: outspoken, gay, anti-Trump – and, annoyingly for her critics, able to back it all up with her talent on the pitch.
Her Trump comments, while released not of her own accord, also fall on fertile ground at a tournament that has come to be about so much more than just football.
We have had the US women’s team’s lawsuit against US Soccer for gender discrimination over pay differences with men’s team, while female Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg refused to play for Norway over the team’s treatment compared to their male counterparts – and all before we even got underway in France.
Since things have kicked off, we’ve had claims that FIFA has not done enough to drum up ticket sales amid half-full stadiums, complaints that women are being used as “guinea pigs” with Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology, and counter-cries from (mainly men) that the tournament is being rammed down their throats by broadcasters and the press in some politically-correct frenzy.
Introduced to that, we now have the debate surrounding 33-year-old Rapinoe and sports stars not going to the White House because of their Trump grievances.
This is nothing new: NBA teams now routinely refuse to go to the White House, while earlier this year several members of the World Series-winning Boston Red Sox team also declined to visit.
Nor is Rapinoe’s social activism or hatred for Trump fresh news. She described herself back in May as “a walking protest” when it comes to the US president, whom she has labeled “racist,” “misogynistic,” and generally “not a good person.”
Rapinoe, who came out as gay in 2012, refused to sing the national anthem at the 2015 World Cup in protest at injustices towards the LGBT community, and was also among the first to follow the ‘Take a Knee’ protests initiated by NFL player Colin Kaepernick back in 2016.
She has since reverted to standing for the national anthem after rules introduced by US Soccer, but does not sing and says she “probably never will do again.”
Having amassed 157 caps and counting for the USA and scoring 49 times, the Seattle Reign winger is one of the faces of women’s football in her homeland and beyond.
She and her partner, Seattle Storm basketball player Sue Bird, were the first gay couple to appear in ESPN’s Body Issue last summer; Rapinoe has also posed for Sports Illustrated.
After the victory against France, she issued a rallying call of “go gays!” – proclaiming (somewhat oddly) that “you can’t win a championship without gays on your team – it’s never been done before, ever.”Also on rt.com ‘You can’t win a championship without gays’ – US Women’s World Cup star Megan Rapinoe
Another of her causes is rallying against the US justice system for locking up drug addicts too readily, as her brother Brian has been in and out of custody as he battles addiction.
Her grievances are numerous, and in many cases justified and admirable, but they have now all been firmly transplanted onto the Women’s World Cup in France.
Some might see that as a good thing. After all, isn’t this the perfect stage to advocate women’s rights, gay rights, and bang the anti-Trump drum?
Well, not entirely.
The hopes for this tournament before it began were that it would be a crucial chance for women’s football to shine, to show the huge strides it has taken with the quality of the play and its excitement as a whole.
It has done that to some degree as promising TV viewing figures have been reported around the world, and there is the thrilling denouement to come as we approach the semifinals in midweek and then the final in Lyon next weekend. Role models will have emerged for girls around the world amid the match-winning performances and drama.
But the tired anti-Trump tropes that have come up this week – and the surrounding debates they have inevitably dredged up – have distracted from that.
Yes, Rapinoe is a powerful, charismatic figure; yes, there are fingers to entice into clicks and newspapers to sell.
But this tournament was already burdened enough by its billing as being a defining moment in the women’s game, and now has to deal with the added weight as being hijacked as a vehicle for setting the world to rights and helping to overthrow Donald Trump.
Many will dislike comparisons here with the men’s game, but a useful reference point is the World Cup in Russia last summer.
The build-up saw politics aplenty, especially in light of Russia’s relations with the UK over the Skripal affair. But once it kicked off, even the Russia-bashing abated. Barring the incidents over the politically-charged goal celebrations of Swiss players Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka, we all largely just got on with the football.
Some may argue that Rapinoe and the US team can cope with being held up as superhero social activists while winning matches in France at the same time. That certainly seems to be the case so far, as they appear to be the dominant team at the tournament and are firm favorites to win it for a fourth time.
But as Rapinoe and Co prepare to meet England on Tuesday, let’s hope that the proceedings and protagonists do not have to advance certain agendas or save the world, rather than just playing some exciting football.
That was, after all, the priority before the tournament began.
By Liam Tyler
Liam Tyler is a writer and editor at RT Sport, covering a wide range of topics and with a focus on football and MMA.