The Star of Equality: Megan Rapinoe and the FIFA Women's World Cup 2019


In 2019, FIFA Women's World Cup turned into a mega event with enormous viewing figures. The U.S. player Megan Rapinoe became a star of the tournament on and off the field. Her controversial presence as an outspoken athlete-activist gained attention worldwide. In my presentation I examine her representations in social and mainstream media during the World Cup. Now than the athlete activism has become even more prominent it is relevant to examine how athlete activists use their social media platforms beside physical acts as part of their protest activities to understand the new reality of activism in the digital age (Schmidt et al. 2018; Cooky & Antunovic, 2020). With that in mind, I examine how Megan Rapinoe became the sportsperson of the year in 2019. I do that by answering the following questions: What did she published on her Instagram profile during the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019? And how the mainstream media treated her performance in and out of the football field?

In context of social media I focus on her ephemeral Instagram stories with ethnographic observation and field notes. I follow Oren Soffer’s (2016) thought about fading (audio)visual social media contents as spoken communication. Instagram stories are not originally meant to be permanent social media content. They have been created to be momentary glimpses impossible to return after certain time frame – like spoken words fade away and disappear. When analyzing the social media material I utilize feminist thematic analysis of female athletes’ self-representation strategies on social media. The key concepts emphasizing neoliberal post-feminism here are self-love, self-disclosure and self-empowerment. (Toffoletti & Thorpe 2018.)

As a result, I argue that the time is finally right for the new kind of recognition of women’s football and therefore for a rebellious female athlete who takes advantage of this opportunity to raise awareness of equality among (sports) people. During the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 Megan Rapinoe became the rebel who stood for something bigger than herself. She is not afraid to put herself in front or be in publicity but as a team sports player she is doing it in the name of the female sports and for her team – which is not just the U.S. World Cup winners but the whole bunch of LGBTQ, racial etc. people supporting her values. She is selling herself as a product but she does it in her unapologetic way without a need to please anyone. That can be seen as a part of a neoliberal post-feminism but at the same time there is something different in that arrogant and shameless way she acts. She if someone really “dares to shine”.