• USA star won Ballon d’Or alongside Messi this week
  • Rapinoe has been a powerful voice for change in society

Lionel Messi and Megan Rapinoe pose with their trophies at Fifa’s The Best awards earlier this year

Lionel Messi and Megan Rapinoe pose with their trophies at Fifa’s The Best awards earlier this year.
Photograph: Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images

Megan Rapinoe has called on a collection of the most famous male footballers in the world to join her in the fight against injustice.

Rapinoe won the Ballon d’Or, recognising her as the best women’s player in the year, earlier this week. Messi won the men’s award for a record sixth time. As well as her achievements on the field – she won her second World Cup with the US this summer – Rapinoe is a powerful voice away from football. She has spoken out against racism, sexism and homophobia. She was also the first white professional athlete to kneel for the US national anthem, joining Colin Kaepernick’s protest against racial and social injustice in the United States.

“I want to shout: ‘Cristiano [Ronaldo], Lionel [Messi], Zlatan [Ibrahimovic], help me!’” she told France Football, the organisers of the Ballon d’Or. “These big stars do not engage in anything when there are so many problems in men’s football. Do they fear losing everything? They believe that, but it is not true. Who will erase Messi or Ronaldo from world football history for a statement against racism or sexism?”

After Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly suffered racist abuse during a game against Internazionale last season, Ronaldo posted a message on Instagram saying “No to racism and any offense & discrimination”, while Ibrahimovic, whose father is Muslim, has said he has been a victim of Islamaphobia. Messi is notoriously reluctant to say anything to the media beyond events on the field.

None of the three can be compared to Rapinoe in terms of activism. Indeed, Ibrahimovic sparked controversy in 2013 when he spoke about Sweden’s women’s team. “With all respect for what the ladies have done, and they’ve done it fantastically well, you can’t compare men’s and women’s football,” he said. “Give it up, it’s not even funny.”

Rapinoe acknowledged that her reward may have partly been a recognition of her work as a voice for change. “This Ballon d’Or rewards both,” she said. “On the one hand, I am a good player. On the other, my activity away from the pitch brings me support as people understand I am acting to find solutions to our society’s problems. The idea is to empower others to speak louder.”

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