Megan Rapinoe, Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles: The top 5 women’s sport activists of 2021

Osaka, Biles

While 2021 has seen women’s sport go from strength to strength, a number of the world’s most renowned female athletes are continuing to speak out on important issues.

Here are five women’s sport activists who have made a difference this year:

Naomi Osaka (Tennis)

Osaka has been instrumental in changing the conversation on mental health this year.

The tennis star withdrew from the French Open and Wimbledon –– revealing how she’d been suffering from bouts of depression and did not feel comfortable speaking to the media in post-match press conferences.

Reaction to her withdrawal was mixed, though many fellow athletes voiced their support for the Japanese star and praised her for being brave enough to admit her struggles.

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Outside of tennis, the 24-year-old has launched her own skincare range called KINLO, which helps with skin protection for people of colour.

Osaka described the project as a “public health need” and told Vogue: “I used to tell people that I didn’t wear sunscreen –– but even if you have melanin, you need to take care of your skin and I am passionate about that.”

Simone Biles (Gymnastics)

Similarly to Osaka, Biles drew widespread praise this year, when she admitted to struggling with her mental health and withdrew from a number of events at the Tokyo Olympics.

The gymnastics icon revealed she was suffering from a problem known as the ‘twisties’, which gave her a temporary loss of air balance awareness.

Biles actually credited Osaka for inspiring her to speak up and the gymnast’s words led other Olympians in Toyo to show a greater willingness to discuss and publicly acknowledge their own mental health issues.

The seven-time Olympic medallist also took the bold decision to end her partnership with sports brand Nike in April, as she didn’t agree with their values.

Biles later signed a deal with Athleta –– a division of clothing retailer Gap –– stressing to the Wall Street Journal: “I think they stand for everything that I stand for.”

Biles

Alex Morgan (Football)

Morgan was one of five US Women’s National Team Players to file a wage discrimination lawsuit against the United States Soccer Federation in 2016 and has fought for justice on the matter ever since.

This year, after the USSF offered the men’s and women’s teams identical contracts, Morgan stressed this was still “not good enough” if it meant a reduction in the players’ earnings.

The forward has also called for the National Women’s Soccer League to end the systematic failure that led to a decade of alleged sexual harassment of players by some coaches.

Speaking on NBC’s Today Show, Morgan said: “Something we ask is for the league to start being proactive, not reactive. We’re asking for transparency.”

Alex Morgan

Megan Rapinoe (Football)

Like Morgan, Rapinoe has been outspoken on the topic of equal pay and the need to improve player welfare.

The former Ballon d’Or winner has also continued to speak out against racial injustice and took the knee along with the majority of the US team before games at the Tokyo Olympics.

Rapinoe has long been taking the knee –– garnering worldwide attention back in 2016 when she knelt during the national anthem of an international game in solidarity with former NFL star Colin Kaepernick.

Earlier this month, Rapinoe launched a new collaboration with Nike, which aims to inspire people to dress however they want to dress.

The first collection includes pieces personally picked by Rapinoe and includes travel fleeces, rain-resistant caps and training wear.

“The whole vibe is going to be different now. I feel cool, I feel sexy, I feel like it speaks for me,” she said.

“There’s no one right way to dress or right thing to wear. Whatever makes you feel good, whatever you’re vibing in, that’s it.”

Rapinoe

Madison Keys (Tennis)

This year marked the fifth anniversary of the launch of tennis star Madison Keys’ “Kindness Wins” non-profit company.

Launched in 2016, the aim is to create a “kinder girl world.”

Keys wants the world to see the power of kindness and the difference that can be made when action is taken.

Speaking on Twitter, she said: “Even in sports, where the focus is being super competitive, kindness is possible and really powerful/inspiring.”

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