At last, at last. Equality is back on the agenda.
I had almost given up hope that the subject would ever again feature in political discourse.
Over the weekend I’ve read dozens of articles about asylum seekers, about immigration, about access to healthcare, about pensions, about housing and homelessness.
Not in one of them does the notion of equality feature. It’s like a forgotten word.
And yet in my lifetime great battles have been fought over this very subject.
Some won, some still to win. I’ve been involved in general elections, and even a presidential election campaign, when all the talk was about greater equality.
When we thought the march towards equality was unstoppable — a few more battles and the war would be won.
The suddenly, equality seemed to disappear from the agenda.Initially, it was replaced by prosperity, and the materialism and individualism that came with it.
The golden Bertie years, when the boom got boomier and there was a tax incentive for everything, so you didn’t have to depend on the state any more.
When we were all on the property ladder. When there was no room for anything but acquisition.
Then that, suddenly, was replaced by fear. The banking collapse drove all talk of social justice into the background. Equality was quite simply a thing we couldn’t afford any longer. Nobody had a right to anything in those days.
And even after we fought an election to keep the recovery going (remember that?) the idea that it might ever again be possible to address any social issue — like housing, or access to healthcare, or disability rights — on the basis of equality seems almost like a quaint memory.
But suddenly we’re talking, and reading, about equality again. It may even be about to become fashionable, the kind of thing posh people talk about in wine bars.
The surprising thing, of course, is that the reason we’re all interested in equality again after all these years is because of a young woman with purple hair called Megan Rapinoe.
I’m going to be honest here. I’d never heard of Megan Rapinoe a few weeks ago. Then, along with millions of others, I started watching the Women’s World Cup.
And in the process, rediscovered football as it used to be played,back in the days when footballers didn’t dive to the ground every time an opponent came within six inches of them, or pretend to be mortally wounded every time they’re tackled. It’s impossible to respect and admire a sport when so many of its highly paid proponents spend so much of their time obviously cheating.
But women’s football, it transpires, isn’t like that. It’s hard, and fast, and skillful.
When women footballers are knocked down, they get up again and keep running. If they need to pass the ball to a team-mate, they don’t pass it gormlessly to an opponent. And boy, can they strike!
It’s a revelation, this football. It really would make you long for the days when everyone played football the same way.
And the poster woman for this brand of football is Megan Rapinoe. She’s young, she’s gay, she’s outspoken, she’s brilliant. (Oh, and by the way she’s no fan of Donald Trump. It’s highly unlikely we’ll be seeing her in his White House any time soon.) And sure, she’s a footballer. But her brand of football is about so much more.
Just read the opening couple of paragraphs from the New York Times coverage of the World Cup final.
“The chant was faint at first, bubbling up from the northern stands inside the Stade de Lyon.
"Gradually it grew louder. Soon it was deafening. ‘Equal pay!’ it went, over and over, until thousands were joining in, filling the stadium with noise. ‘Equal pay! Equal pay!’
"Few sports teams are asked to carry so much meaning on their shoulders, to represent so many things to so many people, as the United States women’s soccer team.
Few athletes are expected to lead on so many fronts at once, to be leaders for equal pay and gay rights and social justice, to serve as the face of both corporations and their customers.
"Fewer still have ever been so equipped to handle such a burden, so aware of themselves, so comfortable in their own skin, as those American women.”
And then they go on to talk about Rapinoe herself. “Rapinoe … a proudly gay athlete eager to use her platform to champion the rights of marginalised communities; the target of the ire of President Trump who, halfway through the tournament, publicly criticized Rapinoe on Twitter for dismissing even the possibility that her team would visit the White House once the competition was over.”
Whenever she talks herself, it’s not tactics or football she talks about, but the need for women in sport to be respected.
“We as players, every player at this World Cup, put on the most incredible show that you could ever ask for,” she said.
We cannot do anything more to impress more, to be better ambassadors, to take on more, to play better or do anything. It’s time to take it forward to the next step.
"A little public shame never hurt anybody, right? I’m down with the boos.”
So, down with the boos. There’s a campaign under way, and it’s on the global agenda right now. It’s about greater equality in sport. It’s about equal pay for equal value.
And maybe it might embolden the rest of us to start thinking and talking about equality in other walks of life.
As Megan Rapinoe looks around her home place, she will realise that increasingly the Unites States has become once again a byword for inequality.
It’s not just the tax packages that ensure that the wealthy benefit at the expense of the poorest. It’s not just the dismantling of health care, designed to turn it into a profitable commodity.
It may be captured best, oddly enough, in the sickening sight of a president making a powerful speech at the Lincoln memorial about American values and optimism and hope, while thousands of children live in filth and squalor at the other end of his country, prisoners of theUS immigration service.
Watching it, I wondered how the marble statue of Lincoln, gazing down solemnly at his appalling successor, didn’t weep.
And who are we to talk? One of the most profitable businesses in Ireland is the provision and maintenance of accommodation for asylum seekers.
We may be on the brink of what one respected campaigner calls a “tsunami” of home repossessions, because of our anxiety to offload mortgages from the balance sheets of the banks.
The largest beef processor in Ireland, and one of the country’s richest men, also runs the most “tax efficient” operation in the country.
We need a few young women with purple hair of our own, don’t we?
If a young football star can ignite a debate about greater equality in her sport, and for the people she represents, isn’t it time we put her simple ideas back on our own agenda? Respect, equality, an end to the margins.
If that’s what Megan Rapinoe stands for, I’ll follow her gladly.