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Megan Rapinoe: 'Now I can focus on winning World Cup'

July 13, 2023

US football star Megan Rapinoe has announced her intention to retire from the game. When asked by DW about the timing of her decision, the 38-year-old said she believes it will help her focus at her final World Cup.

Megan Rapinoe in action for OL Reign in the Challenge Cup
More than a footballer: Megan RapinoeImage: Ariana Ruiz/ZUMAPRESS.com/picture alliance

The upcoming World Cup in Australia and New Zealand will see one of the game's greatest icons bid farewell: Megan Rapinoe has announced that she will retire from football at the end of the current National Women's Soccer League season.

"This will be my last season playing this beautiful game," said the 38-year-old, a winger with Seattle-based football club OL Reign. "I never could have imagined the ways in which soccer would shape and change my life forever."

Indeed, few could have imagined the ways in which she would shape and change the game, so much so that tributes were led by no less than the president of United States.

"Congrats on an incredible career," President Joe Biden tweeted on July 8, also commending Rapinoe for her off-pitch activism.

"Looking forward to seeing how you continue to help people believe in themselves and the possibilities of our nation."

"I'm 38 years old, so it's pretty obvious I'm not going to be playing forever," said Rapinoe, when asked by DW about the timing of her decision. "And it just feels weird for me to have something settled and feel at peace, and to not answer a question honestly or to just not say it."

"I kind of wanted to have that for myself and I think it allows me to focus a lot more and it allows the team to focus a lot more. We don't have to get questions every time, every single game. I think it's just kind of out there and now I can just really enjoy it and focus on trying to win the tournament." 

Rapinoe's off-pitch activism will be remembered

In addition to her illustrious career on the pitch, which includes two World Cup titles, one Olympic gold medal and a Ballon d'Or, Rapinoe will be remembered as one of the most vocal footballers to have ever played the game when it comes to political and social issues in the United States.

In 2022, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, making her the first football player to receive the country's highest civilian award.

The issues Rapinoe stood for have turned her into an international name in the fight for women's rights and those of the LGBTQ community, including fighting for the rights of trans athletes. She also spoke out against former US President Donald Trump's views on several occasions.

One of Rapinoe's most significant achievements came in May 2022 in the form of a deal securing the economic terms for both the women's and the men's national teams, after female US players took their association to court over the matter. The US Federation subsequently became the first in world football  to award the same compensation for all competitions, including the World Cup, to the men's and women's national team.

Other football federations that offer equal pay to their male and female footballers include Norway, Spain and the Netherlands.

US President Joe Biden and First Lady Dr. Jill Biden listen to remarks by Megan Rapinoe
Rapinoe's campaigning went to the very top, including the White HouseImage: CNP/MediaPunch/imago images

Germany lagging behind when it comes to equal pay

Despite Germany's women's team being set to receive higher bonuses for their achievements at the 2023 World Cup, the bonus for winning this year's tournament will be $270,000 (€246,000) per player, significantly lower than the €400,000 promised to the men's team at the 2022 World Cup.

What's more, the bonuses will be paid by FIFA directly. The German Football Association (DFB) said it will not add bonuses of its own.

One of the voices calling for the DFB to act was German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

"Men and women should be paid the same," Scholz tweeted ahead of Germany's Euro 2022 game against Spain, adding that Germany's opponents on the day "have the lead on that front," referencing the equal pay deal announced by the Spanish Football Association.

Megan Rapinoe smiles as she addresses a press conference
Going out on her own terms: Rapinoe is ending her football career the way she wantsImage: Ashley Landis/ASSOCIATED PRESS/picture alliance

Women's football enjoying worldwide boom

Rapinoe's last World Cup will be very different from her first in 2011.

Women's football has been enjoying a boom in worldwide interest, with both attendance numbers and TV viewerships reaching new peaks on a regular basis.

In Germany, for instance, the most watched TV broadcast in 2022 was the final of the women's Euro between England and Germany, which was watched by some 18 million people.

This exceeded all of the men's World Cup games, though those could have been affected by the widescale boycott in German society of the tournament in Qatar.

While she's unlikely to repeat her 2019 performances, which won her both the tournament's Golden Boot and Golden Ball, Rapinoe is bound to enjoy a World Cup in which her achievements will be celebrated, both on and off the pitch.

Her legacy of protests promises to live on in the world of football way after the 2023 World Cup.

Edited by: Matt Ford