meIt’s been three years since Olympique Lyonnais acquired a major stake in Seattle-based NWSL club Reign FC, creating an international sisterhood between women’s clubs unlike any model in professional sports.
The partnership brought some of the world’s most famous players into the same organizational stable, including Lyon’s Ada Hegerberg (who won the Ballon d’Or in 2018) and OL Reign’s Megan Rapinoe (who claimed the trophy in 2019 ). Ahead of their clubs’ tour of the USA, Rapinoe and Hegerberg sat down for an exclusive chat with the Guardian to discuss their team’s unique grief, their thoughts on England’s Euro 2022 win and their hopes for next year’s World Cup in Australia and the Discuss New Zealand. .
What were your thoughts on Euro 2022 and how has it affected English culture, unlike the 1999 World Cup in the United States?
Rapin My overarching feeling was, everyone’s late to the party. This is no surprise to me. I think I knew the level of play was like that [high]. I knew that the European teams, especially in the last five years with the rise of the club game, were really great. Of course this was to be the way it was going. We grow gardens out of cement every single time. Tell me one women’s competition in the last 15 years that hasn’t exceeded expectations. Here’s part of it: “Welcome to the party everyone. You’re really fucking late, but fine.” And I feel proud of that. Ada should feel the same and all the female players should feel the same because we did this. we did this. we to put this into action through strong will, being the best players in the world.
The way the English carried themselves in this tournament, they just took the moment completely and didn’t get caught up in the situation or let themselves get stressed. You could say they stepped in themselves. And it’s another data point, a justification, a reason, a clear picture of why investing in women’s football is good business in the first place. It is a real opportunity to make money.
So I feel so many different emotions. Being as old as I am, it’s hard not to worry about some of this stuff, but progress moves as fast as it does and I think it’s great to be able to build on this. And I hope that all the key stakeholders can really look in the mirror and realize that it was the people who were holding the game back, it wasn’t us. I feel very proud of it. I think all the supporters should be very proud. I think this is a complete adventure, the whole year, going 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 failed to capture the same audience. What is the next step in growing the club game in the United States to what we have recently seen in Europe?
Rapin It has to come from a place of investment. It can’t just be a charity thing. That’s kind of willfully naive at this point. I think we’ve proven time and time again – whether it’s in the club game, the international game, friendlies and the Euros and the Champions League, whatever it is – investing in football is good business. women. And it’s also the right thing to do, but I think before it’s the right thing to do, it’s good business. We shouldn’t be trying to copy everything about men’s sports, and I think that’s 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 burn … no one is going to watch the game.
So he’s investing around the streaming services, investing around the front offices, investing around the facilities for the players, the stadiums for the players, ticketing, marketing, all of that. That’s the only thing missing. The players and the product on the pitch were never lacking. It’s just that we’ve been forever neglected and underfunded and underinvested. Lyon is a great example. European champions a million times, French champions a million times. You have that success and now combining that with perhaps a big change in culture, especially after the World Cup in France, you are obviously seeing huge results. The Euros were just amazing, the Champions League this year was amazing and we are seeing bigger attendances around the world.
This incredible momentum is coming out of the Euros right into a World Cup year. Apart from winning the trophy, what would you most like to see from next year’s competition?
Hegerberg I keep scratching my head after every major tournament. You’ve got the World Cup, you’ve got the Euros and then we go back to the club and that’s when all the momentum drops. And I think that’s a huge problem. Like I’m a player in Europe, of course, and I’ve seen what’s going on here and – as Megan mentioned earlier – every tournament has been good in terms of interest from your home country, on a global basis, the coverage . . You have this crazy momentum and then all these top players are going back to their clubs and you seem to lose this momentum. And I think it’s a shame.
DAZN did an incredible job with the Champions League this year. You had a nice and powerful cover. People got a good platform to see all the best games. But our problem is our home leagues, basically. I think like England, they are very good at selling their league. They are very good at marketing their league, but the other leagues, we have to step up. The federations are in charge of these leagues and they have a huge job to do to raise the whole product, with the clubs of course, and shake it up a bit and start selling the league, start selling good football games when you really have the best players playing every weekend. And I really think that’s the next step, especially in Europe. You have to build momentum all year long.
Rapin The only thing I would say about the World Cup next year, I would love to not drop the ball. It is absurd if it fell again. That’s from the major stakeholders. That’s Uefa, that’s the federations, that’s FIFA, that’s Gianni [Infantino], specifically. It’s the Australian Federation, everything. We now know that if you invest in this World Cup, it will work. It’s just not even a fucking question. I’d love to see people stop saying: Wow, I think we have something here! This is crazy if you don’t invest in it. Whether it’s people producing content or streaming services or sponsors or whatever.
It’s like a literal gold mine and I don’t understand. I mean, I get it: it’s sexism and patriarchy. The major stakeholders, most of them all are men and white men. They were able to stand up and say: “You know how we managed to do it. We have was getting it wrong. We have was sexual.” Because that’s really what it is. we was … not invested despite all the key metrics indicating this would be implausible [return on investment].
You need to invest in the infrastructure of women’s sports, whether it’s streaming, branding, marketing, journalism, all the things that help support it. I mean the men’s game, everyone talks about it all the time. I don’t want to know as much about LeBron James as I do, but I can’t, because he’s in my face all the time. I’m sure in European football, with Canal+ and BBC Sport and all that, you probably don’t want to know as much about Jack Grealish as you do, but you’re going to anyway, because you can’t to find out. of your mind. Things like that are really important.
Hegerberg This kind of coverage will help change the mindsets, it will help raise a completely different generation in different training, smarter training, to make the same demands on six-year-old girls as you do on six-year-old boys age, for example. 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 in the long term as well, because I think the game can only get better. The way the girls read the game, technically, we’ve seen a huge change in pace and physicality. Changing mindsets to have better coverage and investment, it’s also going to 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 raising the level year after year as well.
You mention the quality of the European sides, Megan. How does the US women’s system plan to keep up with Europe while they are so clearly on America’s heels?
Rapin The game is growing exponentially every year. It is a huge challenge for us. I think the football played at the Euros was the best football we have ever seen in the world. I don’t think that’s even a question. It is a huge challenge for us. We know how to win. We have a winning culture here. We know what we’re up to. So to me, honestly, it’s exciting. 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 that brings out the best in everyone. But yes, we have a high order not only our No. 1 to stand clearly but to keep ourselves as world champions. I’m excited about it. I think if you’re not under pressure and you’re not challenging and you’re not shitting yourself a little bit, like what’s the point?