Alex Morgan:’ If Fifa start respecting the women’s game more, others will follow’ | Donald McRae

The American star striker is an active campaigner for womens equality off the field and has set her sights on becoming the worlds leading player on it, having taken the plunge with a six-month loan spell at Lyon, she tells Donald McRae

On a cold, grey January day in Lyon the flame of Alex Morgans ambition is obvious. She has already spoken of her desire to become the best female footballer in the world and, a long way from the winter sunshine of Florida, to adapt to a new culture in France. Morgan arrived in Lyon only a few days into 2017, after she had been sought on Twitter by Jean-Michel Aulas, the president of Lyon. Aulas made it clear that signing the American starring striker would underline Lyons commitment to a women squad which won the French title, domestic beaker and Champions League treble last season.

Morgans drive might be matched by Lyon but the 27 -year-old World Cup winner and Olympic gold medallist, who has scored 73 aims in 120 games for the USA, stresses how many more important combats are still to be won for womens football. Its great to see females standing up in their own line of work and fighting for fair value, she says after name-checking Jennifer Lawrence and Taylor Swift. Such starry allies suit Morgan, who has more than 2.8 million followers on Twitter, but there is also a wearying grittiness to the struggle for equality in womens sport.

Were trying to do the same thing and weve come a long way. But it gets exhausting having to do this every day, every week. Our male counterparts have not had to fight as much so sometimes you feel a little exhausted always having to prove yourself and prove your worth.

Morgan rolls her eyes when I say how odd it is that sportswomen are having to fight so hard for parity in 2017. Sometimes it feels a little redundant and I wish we didnt have to fight so hard. But you ensure female actresses and singers standing up for themselves as well as women in general. A girl earns an average 73 cents to the male dollar in the US. So theres still a long way to run. Theres hope given the fact that so many people know about our struggle in football with the CBA[ Collective Bargaining Agreement] and our fight for equal pay. The fact that the agreement was such a big deallast year showed how much the womens game has grown.

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Alex Morgan, right, in action for the USA against Japan last June. Photo: Jason Miller/ Getty Images

In her new European put Morgan is note-perfect in always saying football rather than soccer. But semantics do not really matter when the issues within the womens game in the US are so tangled that Morgan speaks of a crisis. She stresses that the dispute between US Soccer and “the member states national” squad, with the players calling for a fairer structure in relation to the mens squad, could lead to strike action.

Its necessary for change sometimes, Morgan says of a possible ten-strike. It wouldnt be the first time females decided to ten-strike. Colombia and a couple of other countries might do the same. And Australia didnt play us a year ago because of the same combat. We were supposed to play them in a few weeks and they decided not to get on the flight because they werent to be paid what they were worth or anywhere close.

To force a change sometimes you need to stand up. You know what youre worth rather than what your employer is paying you. Were not scared. To move the womens game ahead we need to do whats necessary. I feel other national teams are looking at us for that guidance.

Morgan giggles wryly and says Where do I start? when asked for a potted history of the US dispute. But she then speaks clearly. As a national squad we have a collective bargaining agreement and from 2001 weve had a salary-structured contract because there hasnt always been a league for national players. So US Soccer has funded the players by giving them an annual salary. Moving forward we would love to keep that consistency in being paid[ by the federation] but we want to close the gap between men and women.

Its difficult because we are probably the first national team to get a wage. Were also likely the highest paid in terms of a womens national squad. But do you compare us to other womens national squads or to the US humen? Do you compare us to clubs? With US Soccer also funding the NWSL[ National Womens Soccer League] its very intertwined and hard to understand from the outside.

But the fight is about receiving equitable treatment not just pay. Our CBA objective last month so right now were locked with the status quo. Neither US Soccer nor us have submitted anything that says theyll lock us out or that we will ten-strike. Were hoping to reach agreement but there eventually needs to be pressure from one side to satisfy in the middle.

We dont have a World Cup or Olympics to use as leveraging while we negotiate a new contract. But we have an important tournament coming up[ in March ]. The SheBelieves Cup brings France, England and Germany to the US. Before we play those matches we want to get a bargain done so we can move on.

The fact that womens football still struggles for parity in the US where it is such a popular athletic indicates the depth of the battle facing the female game globally. Morgan is forthright when she holds Fifas attitude to women football and its decision to stage the 2015 World Cup on artificial pitches. We took it very personally because it was an insult. They had never said and done for the men and they never would. The men wouldnt stand for it. We tried to take a stand and we brought in lawyers and tried to bring it to court in Canada. Lots of players were involved internationally. But it was too late to change anything.

At least we won the tournament and a concession from Fifa that they will never do anything like that again. But its also about the win bonuses for the champions or even the teams who finish second, third or fourth. Its about the amount of fans who watch and the amount of security the women get compared to the men. Its about the amount of marketing dollars spent promoting the World Cup.

I understand theres much more money in the mens game. But Fifa expended so much period on “the mens” they now need to focus a little more on us. I would like to close that gap even if Im not expecting it to be equal. Im not expecting there to be a huge leap and the win bonus to be $35 m when, for the women, its$ 2m. I dont believe the entire world respects women in sport. But if Fifa start respecting the womens game more, others will follow.

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Alex Morgan holds us her new shirt during a press conference as part of her official unveiling at Lyon. Photograph: AP

Morgans decision to immerse herself in European football, at the least for an initial six-month loan from Orlando Pride to Lyon, is motivated by a desire to improve my game as she seeks to become the worlds best female footballer. I still have a style to go. I hope to get there this year or next year. Ive been able to step up in big moments in the 2012 Olympics and the World Cup. But before Im able to be the best player in the world, I need to be in the worlds best XI. The start of that is educate with the worlds best[ club] team.

I would like to win the Ballon dOr for women. But every top professional should have that aspiration. Weve just seen the 2016 awarding [ won last week by Morgans US team-mate Carli Lloyd ]. Carli was up against Melanie Behringer[ of Germany] and Marta[ the Brazilian who previously won the award five years in a row ]. Theyre three of the worlds best players but others can compete with them.

Morgan has star appeal and this past weekend Lquipe ran a six-page magazine cover story on her. Thats heartening, isnt it, Morgan says, because you uncover not only yourself but the sport as a whole.

Its still difficult for Morgan as she tries to learn French and after only a few days she acknowledges she has not moved far beyond bonjour. She is also missing her husband, Servando Carrasco, a defensive midfielder for Orlando City, and their puppy Blue. My spouse discovered it hard as well because we are finally in the same city[ Orlando] after six years of playing professionally in different cities. But I told him I need to challenge myself and evolve as a player. He aimed up not only supporting me but feeling like it was necessary for me.

At least her established role as one of the worlds best players means that Morgan, as an American, will not suffer the racism that afflicted her countryman Bob Bradley during his brief managerial spell in the Premier League with Swansea. I was cringing and felt really bad for him, Morgan says of Bradley. I didnt feel like he had enough time. He couldnt bring in any of his own[ coaching] guys and it was a little cruel and unfair.

More than 26 million people in the US watched Morgan and her team-mates win the 2015 World Cup final a much larger television audience than for the mens team. But Morgan points out that most women playing the game professionally, but not at national level, have to work in additional undertakings. They have to do that for five months per year because our season is only seven months long. They definitely need to find jobs, whether thats soccer clinics or camps or an actual desk job. The minimum wage when we started the League four years ago was around $6,000. Its improved a little and players receive housing so that helps. But even now the minimum salary is scarcely liveable. Thats why youre insuring players retiring at 25 before their prime.

How would Morgan improve pay for womens football in the US? Accessibility is important. Having games on TV and that sort of marketing is crucial. Sometimes Ill be walking through Orlando and people recognise me and they ask if Im here for “the member states national” squad. They dont understand they have a womens club team in their own city. I get that its merely been a year but awareness hasnt been great.

The NWSL is our newborn because weve considered two leagues in the US fold. Players, coaches, proprietors and fans want it to succeed. And only because Im playing in Europe the next six months doesnt entail I will stop caring about football back home. Im going to be very active in our fight for the new agreement.

Morgans allegiance to the US means she smiles when reminding me that the 2019 women World Cup final will be held in the very same Lyon stadium where we now sit. Her aim is to win that tournament in her adopted French home. But, in terms of winning the wider battle for womens football, can equality be achieved soon?

Thats the hope. Ten years? I dont know. Twenty years I see as definitely doable. Fifa has to do a lot more to evolve our game because women in athletic arent respected equally around the world. Our current combat in the US will get resolved but I dont believe the fight will ever aim globally for the womens game. We will always have to fight for our rights.

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