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Equality will be the theme of this Women’s World Cup

Updated June 3, 2019 - 2:19 pm

The world’s best player won’t be at the Women’s World Cup but the world’s best team will be, with both sides taking a stand for equality.

The U.S. national team, ranked No. 1 globally, will try to defend its title in soccer’s premier tournament, which kicks off Friday in Paris. While the Americans make their way around France for the monthlong event, back at home they’re all part of a lawsuit that accuses U.S. Soccer of gender discrimination.

Meanwhile, Ada Hegerberg, the first female Ballon d’Or winner for the world’s top player, won’t be accompanying Norway’s national team. She stepped away in 2017 because of what she perceives to be a general disregard for women’s soccer by the country’s federation. The crux of her frustration is the uneven pace of progress and strategy in the women’s game.

Hegerberg, 23, is at the top of her game. She had a hat trick for Lyon in its 4-1 win over Barcelona in the recent Women’s Champions League final. In domestic games, she has 211 goals in 208 games.

“We are happy for this debate to raise attention and respect for women’s soccer in the world, and I do view it as a big change-maker.” said Lise Klaveness, sporting director for the Norwegian Football Federation, “But I just wish she was in our team.”

The U.S. team hopes to collectively be a difference-maker, too.

Twenty-eight members of the current player pool filed the lawsuit on March 8 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, alleging “institutionalized gender discrimination” that includes inequitable compensation when compared with their counterparts on the men’s national team.

Because the lawsuit is still in the early stages, it’s likely no significant movement will be made until the team returns home.

Megan Rapinoe was asked whether the pay issue puts more pressure on the team — which will already be facing a strong field looking to topple the three-time World Cup winners.

“I think that the huge media splash of the lawsuit is behind us and we’re obviously focused on the World Cup,” Rapinoe said. “But also it’s like this is our life, and there are a lot of things that we have to grapple and deal with: Family, friends, partners, media, pressures, games, World Cup, travel. So it’s just kind of just one more thing. This team always has a lot of media attention, and we’ve always had a lot of things on our plate so it’s not like it’s anything new, or all of a sudden we’re getting all the more attention. It’s sort of the same for us.”

The 24-team tournament will be played at nine stadiums across France over the course of the next month, with the final set for July 7 in Lyon.

AP Sports Writer Steve Douglas contributed to this report.

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