Japanese women’s football great Yuki Nagasato said she was inspired by Megan Rapinoe’s fight for equality as she took the highly unusual step of joining a men’s team on Thursday.
Nagasato, a Women’s World Cup-winner in 2011, will play for Hayabusa Eleven, an amateur outfit in her home prefecture of Kanagawa, on loan from Chicago Red Stars in the US professional league.
The 33-year-old striker, who will return to the Red Stars for the 2021 season, will play as a professional with Hayabusa Eleven, the team of her older brother Genki.
“Honestly, how much I can contribute among men is unknown,” Nagasato, also a runner-up at the 2015 World Cup and 2012 Olympics, said at her unveiling.
“But I was really inspired by messages on gender gap by Rapinoe at the World Cup and I was wondering if I could also send a message to the society,” she said.
Rapinoe, this year’s Ballon d’Or winner after starring in the United States’ victorious World Cup campaign, is a strong campaigner for social justice who has led attempts to win equal pay for America’s men’s and women’s national teams.
Nagasato said it was her idea to play for Hayabusa Eleven, a move that she hoped would send out a strong message.
“I thought I could show that women can also play in a men’s team,” she said.
“I want to help create a community where there is no boundary regarding gender or race.”
Nagasato joined the Chicago team in 2017 and scored eight goals last year, together with a league-leading eight assists.
But she said she had no ambitions of playing for the Nadeshiko, Japan’s women’s team, at the postponed Tokyo Olympics next year.
“I really cannot imagine myself joining” the Olympics, she said.