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World Cup chance to ‘blow lid off’ business of women’s sports: Rapinoe

US veteran Megan Rapinoe said the upcoming Women’s World Cup feels like a “paradigm shift” in the global business of women’s sports even as inequities persist.

The fight for equal pay by Rapinoe and her US teammates was a backdrop to their 2019 World Cup triumph in France, eventually resulting in a collective bargaining agreement with US Soccer that included equal prize money between the men’s and women’s national teams and more equal benefits in areas including accommodation and travel.

FIFA has guaranteed that ever player at next month’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand will earn at least $30,000, with the winners taking home $270,000.

At a US media day on Tuesday, Rapinoe said there was still work to be done to ensure the world’s best women footballers are properly compensated, but there’s no doubt that the Women’s World Cup has arrived as one of the top sporting events in the world.

“I think, just in general, women’s sports right now feels like we’re sort of out of just the dogged fight phase,” Rapinoe, who played on World Cup-winning teams in 2015 and 2019, said as the team gathered in California to begin final preparations for the tournament.

“It feels like a real opportunity to blow the lid off just in terms of fanfare and media and sponsorships and the sort of larger business around this sport.

“I think everyone is sort of hip to the game now and understands that this is not somewhere that’s just like, ‘Oh, we should cheer for the Women’s World Cup because that’s the right thing to do.’

“It is actually terrible business if you are not tuning in — you are missing out on a large cultural moment … this is the premier women’s sporting event in the world bar none and this is a paradigm shift globally, not just in the US.”

It’s infuriating

Rapinoe acknowledged that progress didn’t mean there wasn’t “still work to be done.”

Canada’s women remain locked in a labor dispute with their federation, with captain Christine Sinclair saying last week she expected at least a temporary solution to be reached before the World Cup squad departed.

Jamaica’s World Cup side, meanwhile, has resorted to fund-raising campaigns as they prepared for the tournament because of a lack of resources from the federation.

“It’s infuriating,” Rapinoe said. “It just like doesn’t have to be like this. But I do think it’s getting better … I think that there’s a lot more resources that these teams can tap into.”

The difference, she said, will be seen on the pitch in Australia and New Zealand.

“You’re going to see the best product on the field and that’s because players are going to be able to be put in a position to just focus on the game and go out there and provide the entertainment everybody wants.”

Rapinoe, the 2019 Ballon d’Or winner who helped the United States claim a fourth World Cup crown in 2019, is one of three players in the squad playing in a fourth World Cup.

They’re joined by a wealth of young talent that includes 18-year-old Alyssa Thompson, 21-year-old Trinity Rodman and 22-year-old Sophia Smith, the 2022 National Women’s Soccer League Most Valuable Player.

The Americans kick off their World Cup campaign against Vietnam in Auckland on July 22.

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