For Megan Rapinoe, reminders of dark moments from the U.S. women’s soccer team’s protracted fight for equal pay pop up from time to time. In February, when Rapinoe walked into the locker room at Toyota Stadium in Dallas for the SheBelieves Cup, her mind immediately flashed back to the same tournament in March 2020, when she and her teammates wore their warm-up jerseys inside out to hide the U.S. Soccer Federation crest. They were protesting U.S. Soccer’s court filing, which argued that the women did not perform jobs requiring “equal skill, effort and responsibility under similar working conditions” compared with the players on the men’s team.
Those difficult times are now behind her. In September, the women’s and men’s teams signed historic collective-bargaining agreements guaranteeing identical pay structures for national team appearances and tournament victories, revenue sharing, and equitable distribution of World Cup prize money. “It’s a huge step forward to continue to build the sport,” says Rapinoe, who won the Golden Ball award for the top player at the 2019 World Cup in France. The most visible and outspoken member of the back-to-back World Cup–winning team, Rapinoe led a movement that’s been adopted by players in other countries including Canada and Spain and has inspired women across fields to demand equal pay.
Read More: TIME 2019 Athlete of the Year: U.S. Women’s Soccer Team
Rapinoe, 37, will play in her final World Cup this summer in Australia and New Zealand. “I’m all for longevity, but we don’t need to drag it,” she says. Worldwide, investment is growing in the women’s game, threatening U.S. supremacy. While she likely won’t be a starter down under, the U.S. may need her late-game punch. “I want our team to feel confident and swaggy and be exactly who we are,” Rapinoe says. “But ultimately, I want to win. That sh-t’s fun.”
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