As Pro Sports Return, Some Stars Say Not So Fast



United States Women’s National Team star Megan Rapinoe will be noticeably absent from the N.W.S.L. Challenge Cup when the National Women’s Soccer League resumes play later this month. Rapinoe is refusing to play on the grounds of safety, and her team, OL Reign, will be without her for the month-long tournament taking place in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The 34-year-old soccer star is one of the biggest names in the game, having led the USWNT to victory in the 2019 Women’s World Cup. “I understand her motivations,” her coach Farid Benstiti was quoted as saying in the The New York Times, “but I am disappointed and frustrated that she will not be with us to compete in this tournament. Megan is important to the group, and we could have achieved something big if she had joined the rest of the group. She will be missed by the team and also by women’s football.”

Rapinoe isn’t the only member of the USWNT who is refusing to play, according to Yahoo Sports, but she is the only one who has been named so far. Players have voiced concerns about safety and testing protocols, isolation from their families during the required quarantine, and the risk of injury in a compressed schedule where most games will be played on artificial turf — the latter of which has been an ongoing concern for players even before the Coronavirus pandemic hit. Rapinoe tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee while training on a turf field before one of the national team’s victory tour games, and also tore the meniscus in her left knee in 2017.

There is also the issue of the USWNT lawsuit regarding equal pay for the men’s and women’s national teams that was recently dismissed by a court. An infographic by Bwin demonstrates exactly how successful the USWNT has been in comparison to their male counterparts with consecutive World Cup victories in 2015 and 2019. CNN confirmed they are likely to appeal the decision, and whether that has any bearing on Rapinoe’s choice not to play in the tournament is debatable, as the star has not yet publicly commented on her decision.

The N.W.S.L. Challenge Cup was created to bring soccer back after the recent hiatus as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic. Kicking off on June 27, the tournament is the result of much negotiation between teams and players. CBC says that the league consulted closely with players, in particular those with children to ensure they didn’t have major concerns. “If players feel as though they are unsafe or uncomfortable, this is not something that we are required or mandated to participate in,” said 33-year-old, Amy Rodriguez, who plays for the Utah Royals and has two children. “So, for players who have concerns that are not being addressed or needs that are not being met, I’m happy that at this point time they can opt out.”

And it’s not just these soccer players that are having reservations about returning to play under current conditions. When the USTA announced this week that the U.S. Open would be played as originally scheduled — but without fans — a number of players such as Novak Djokovic, Raphael Nadal, and Simona Halep voiced their concerns.

And this was before Novak Djokovic tested positive for Covid-19, along with 3 other players who had participated in Djokovic’s Adria Tour in Croatia.

Said Halep in The New York Times, “Not only because we’re in the middle of a global pandemic but also because of the risk of travel, potential quarantine and then the changes around the tournament. We are used to things operating very differently and it would not be an easy transition at all, particularly on our bodies.”

Famously outspoken Australian tennis pro Nick Kyrgios took it a step further in a Twitter post calling the USTA “selfish” after it announced that it would be moving forward with the U.S. Open, “…People that live in the US of course are pushing the Open to go ahead,” his tweet read. “I’ll get my hazmat suit ready for when I travel from Australia and then have to quarantine for 2 weeks on my return.”

Whilst it is still unclear how many stars will opt out of the N.W.S.L. Challenge Cup, Rapinoe’s absence will no doubt be felt by her team, the NWSL, and fans who would have loved to see the country’s biggest soccer star back on the field.

As for the U.S. Open, he good news is Serena Williams has committed to playing in this year’s tournament, although we’ll see what happens in light of Djokovik’s announcement.