i amIt’s been three years since Olympique Lyonnais acquired a majority stake in Seattle-based NWSL club Reign FC, creating an international sisterhood between women’s clubs unlike any model in professional sports.
The partnership has brought some of the world’s best-known players to the same organizational stable, including Lyon’s Ada Hegerberg (who won the Ballon d’Or in 2018) and Megan Rapinoe of OL Reign (who won the trophy in 2019). Ahead of their clubs’ joint tour of the United States, Rapinoe and Hegerberg sat down for an exclusive chat with the Guardian to discuss their teams’ incredible upset, their thoughts on England’s Euro 2022 triumph and their hopes for 2020’s World Cup. to discuss Australia and New Zealand. .
What were your thoughts on Euro 2022 and how did it seem to cross over into English culture, unlike the 1999 World Cup in the US?
Rapinoe My main feeling was that everyone was late to the party. This is not at all surprising to me. I feel like I knew the level of play was going to be like that [high]. I knew that the European teams, especially in the last five years with the rise of the club game, have been sensitive. Of course, this is how it would be. We actually grow gardens out of concrete every time. Tell me about a women’s tournament in the last 15 years that hasn’t exceeded expectations. A part of it is as follows: “Welcome to the party everyone. You’re too late, but it’s okay.” And I am proud of it. Ada should feel the same and all female actors should feel the same we did this We did this We This is really driven by sheer willpower, while also being the best players in the world.
The way the English players handled themselves in this tournament, they just embraced the moment completely and didn’t get caught up in the narrative or stress about it. You can just tell they got into it. And that’s yet another data point, justification, reason, a clear picture of why investing in women’s football is good business, above all. It is a money making opportunity.
So I feel a lot of different emotions. As old as I am, it’s hard not to be upset about certain things, but progress moves at the pace it does and I think it’s great to build on that. And I just hope that all the major stakeholders can really look in the mirror and realize that they are the ones holding the game back, not us. I feel very proud. I think all supporters should feel very proud. I think it’s the perfect time, this year, from the Champions League to what Barcelona did [setting multiple world attendance records].
While the US women’s national team regularly draws large crowds, the NWSL has not been able to capture the same audience. What’s the next step in growing the club game in the US beyond what we’ve been seeing in Europe lately?
Rapinoe It has to come from a place of investment. It can’t just be a charity thing. He is willfully naive at this point. I think we have proven time and time again – whether it’s in the club game, in the international game, in friendlies and the Euros and the Champions League, whatever – it’s good business to invest in women’s football. And that’s the right thing to do, but I think it’s good business before it’s the right thing. We shouldn’t try to copy everything that men’s sports has, and I think that’s obviously a really easy trap to fall into. But I think when you really invest in women’s sports: the energy is there, the culture around it is there, the fandom is there, but if I can’t figure out how to find it stream … no one is going to watch the game.
So it’s investment around streaming services, investment around front offices, investment around facilities for players, stadiums for players, tickets, marketing, all of that. That’s the only thing missing. The players and the product on the field have never been lost. We are just neglected and under-funded and forever under-invested. Lyon is a perfect example. European champions a million times, French champions a million times. You’ve had that success and now with maybe a sea change in culture, especially after the World Cup in France, you’re obviously seeing massive returns. The Euros were just sensational, the Champions League was absolutely sensational this year and you see bigger attendances around the world.
There’s this incredible sense of urgency coming out of the Euros straight into a World Cup year. Apart from lifting the trophy, what do you most want to see from next year’s tournament?
Hegerberg After every big tournament I scratch my head. You’ve got the World Cup, you’ve got the Euros and then we go back to the club and then it’s like it loses all momentum. And I think that’s a big problem. Like I’m a player in Europe, obviously, and I’ve seen what’s going on here and – like Megan mentioned before – every tournament has been successful in terms of benefiting your country, on a global basis. . You have this crazy rush and then you get all these best players going back to their clubs and it seems like you kind of lose this momentum. And I think that’s a shame.
DAZN has done an incredible job with the Champions League this year. You had some very strong. People really got a good platform to see all the best games. But the problem is basically our home leagues. I feel like England, they are very good at selling their league. They are very good at marketing their league, but other leagues, we have to step up. The federations are in control of these leagues and they have a big job to do to take the whole product, with the clubs obviously, and shake it up a bit and start selling the leagues, start selling good football matches wherever they are. you really have the best players playing every weekend. And I really think it’s the last step, especially in Europe. You need to increase your speed throughout the year.
Rapinoe All I will say about next year’s World Cup is that I would love to see the ball not dropped. If it is thrown again it is foolish. It is one of the key stakeholders. It’s Uefa, it’s the federation, it’s Fifa, it’s Gianni [Infantino], in particular. It’s the Australian federation, after all. We now know that if you invest in this World Cup, it will work. It’s just not a stupid question. I would like to see people stop saying: Wow, I think we have something here! It’s crazy if you don’t invest in it. Whether it’s people producing content or broadcasting services or sponsors or whatever it may be.
It’s like a gold mine and I just don’t understand. I mean, I get it: it’s sexism and patriarchy. The main participants are mostly men and white men. They could stand up and say: “You know what, like we did wrong. We have have been is mistaken. We have have been sexist.” Because that’s exactly what it is. We did not investments along with all the major metrics indicate that this will be incredible [return on investment].
You have to invest in the infrastructure around women’s sport, whether it’s publishing, branding, marketing, journalism, all the things that help it. I mean the men’s game, everyone talks about it all the time. I don’t want to say as much as I know about LeBron James, but I can’t because he’s always in my face. I’m sure in European football, with Canal+ and BBC Sport and everything, you probably don’t want to know as much as you do about Jack Grealish, but you’re going to anyway, because you can’t get him out. out of mind Such things are really important.
Hegerberg This kind of coverage will help change the mentality, will help make a completely different generation with different education, even smarter, to set the same expectations for six-year-old girls as you do with six-year-old boys. I wish we were taken as seriously as the boys when we started playing. And I think it has a big impact on the level and the duration as well, because I think the game can only get better. The way the girls read the game, technically, we saw a huge change in tempo and physicality. Changing the mentality with better coverage and investment, it will also have a big impact on the next generation and how they play in 15 years, and I think that’s very important because we’re here to level up year after year. also raise
You talk about the quality of European sides, Megan. How does the US women’s system plan to keep up with Europe when they are so clearly on America’s back?
Rapinoe The game is growing exponentially every year. It is a big difficulty for us. I think the football played at the Euros was the best football we have seen in the world. I don’t think this is even a question. It is a big difficulty for us. We know how to win. We have a successful culture here. We know what we are up against. So I think, for me, actually, it’s interesting. It’s exciting that so many teams are so much better. It’s exciting that the level of competition is what it is. I think it brings out the best in everyone. But yes, we have a tall order to not only hold on to our No. 1 position, but to keep ourselves world champions. I am excited for it. I think if you’re not pushed and you’re not hindered and you’re not even a little bit confused, what’s the point?