BERLIN -- To say Megan Rapinoe had a successful Women's World Cup would be a gross understatement. She left Lyon's final on Sunday as champion, best player and top scorer while off the pitch she is driving an equal pay movement and standing up to the President of the United States.
"Congratulations to the US Women's Soccer Team on winning the World Cup! Great and exciting play," President Donald Trump tweeted. "America is proud of you all!"
Politics -- and there is plenty of it where Rapinoe is concerned -- aside, the United States team are an undeniably unifying force. There is simply no argument that they are the best in the world and will celebrate accordingly after retaining their 2015 title with a 2-0 win over the Netherlands.
"Megan should WIN first before she TALKS! Finish the job!" Trump had tweeted earlier in the competition in response to Rapinoe's blunt comments that she would not be visiting the White House afterwards.
"Megan should never disrespect our Country, the White House, or our Flag, especially since so much has been done for her & the team," Trump said.
But the reverse question also applies as to why anyone would disrespect Rapinoe given what the superlative 34-year-old forward is doing for her country.
After quickly backing American footballer's Colin Kaepernick anthem protest against racial inequality, she has become a leader off the pitch just as she is -- along with co-captains -- on the field.
"We say what we feel," said Rapinoe. "All of us really, I know that my voice sometimes is louder, but in meal rooms, in conversations, everybody is in this together.
"We are such a proud and strong and defiant group of women."
The immediate aftermath of a World Cup final would not seem the natural time for protests. Adrenaline is pumping through the veins of the winners who are often dizzy with delight.
Yet the cries of "equal pay, equal pay," which rang around the stadium in Lyon when Gianni Infantino, president of world governing body FIFA appeared for the trophy presentation, served as a timely reminder of lingering injustice.
"Everyone's asking what's next and what we want to come all of this -- it's to stop having the conversation about equal pay and are we worth it," Rapinoe said.
Rapinoe, along with her team-mates, are suing their own US federation over what they claim are discriminatory pay and conditions. The US men's team -- which in terms of success are on a different, lower, planet -- rake in much more through pay and bonuses.
FIFA at least recognizes the issue and Infantino says he wants to double the prize money available at the next Women's World Cup in 2023. That, though, would raise the pot to just 60 million dollars while the cash available to the men hits 440 million dollars a year earlier in Qatar.
While nearly 60,000 watched Sunday's final be settled by Rapinoe's penalty and a wonderful solo goal from Rose Lavelle, the average attendance of around 20,000 failed to fill most stadiums throughout France.
Media attention was greater than at previous tournaments but the women still had to compete with the men's Copa America, Gold Cup and African Cup of Nations rather than having the stage to themselves.
Apart from the US, Europe provided seven of the quarter-finalists with the upcoming Netherlands along with England and a resurgent Sweden looking especially strong in reaching the last four.
"Women's football is the football of today; it is not the football of tomorrow," European football president Aleksander Ceferin said. "It is UEFA's duty as European governing body to empower the women's game."
Ceferin cited around 2 billion dollars being invested in women's football from 2004 to 2020 while the rest of the world is also getting on board
Argentina, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and South Korea are interested in hosting 2023, though the process may have to be restarted if Infantino succeeds in increasing the tournament to 32 teams from 24.
The FIFA president sees the chance to build on what he called "the best women's World Cup ever." Rapinoe would likely approve -- but only if deeds are followed by words.
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