By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)

US Women’s National Soccer Team and Superstar, Megan Rapinoe firmly believes that the response by sports organizations and athletes to challenge China on their human rights abuses against the Uighur minorities is not through boycotts, but by empowering athletes to use their platforms to speak out on the issues leading up to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

While the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo has been cast in doubt under the Covid pandemic, the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing have been criticized and threatened with boycotts over China’s abusive treatment of Uighur minorities. In an interview with Reuters she stated,

“I don’t think athletes should be pawns,” Rapinoe said. “It is always a balance between boycotting and using the event as an opportunity to continue to speak truth to power and protest in some sort of way. You can you use the platform to push not only countries but organizing bodies and governing bodies to be much more progressive than they have been in the past.”

Rapinoe as the highest profile member of the US Women’s National Soccer has used her platform to advocate and speak out about social justice issues as well as taking action to encourage people to get vaccinate.  Both Rapinoe and her partner WNBA player Sue Bird recently volunteered at a local Covid-19 mass vaccination clinic in their hometown of Seattle. Rapinoe will also be appearing before Congress as part of “Equal Pay Day” to speak out about the economic impact and pay disparity caused by gender inequality.

Rapinoe and the US Women’s National Team have long fought for equal pay and representation by the US Soccer Federation. The women’s team has seen far more success in the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup when compared to their male counterparts, but the men’s national team still out earns the women’s by a significant amount that has been the main driver of this conflict. This has been Rapinoe’s off field focus, but she does not let it distract from her or her team’s performance on the field, especially leading up to the Tokyo Olympics where they are looking to take home the gold.

“That’s what has been so special about this team is being able to fight for equality while fighting for a World Cup and use our platform and use our success on the field to amplify our demand for equality and the respect we deserve,” she said. “I don’t pull on the jersey for the federation or the people that are discriminating against me, I put in on for myself, I put it on for all the people that are being discriminated against.”

As vaccination ramps up, Rapinoe is feeling optimistic that the Olympics will proceed.

“It is starting to have that kind of buzz,” said Rapinoe. “I think it would be a really amazing and kind of an uplifting event to bring the sports world back together for the first time in a long time and do something as special as the Olympics.”

For more information about Equal Pay Day visit http://www.equalpaytoday.org/equal-pay-day-2021

Photo by Lorie Shaull via Wikimedia Commons