Rapinoe to respect new US anthem rules

Megan Rapinoe (R) kneels during the National Anthem prior to a match in 2016

United States women's soccer star Megan Rapinoe said Monday she will abide by a new policy which orders players to stand during the playing of the US national anthem.

Rapinoe, 31, has kneeled during pre-match renditions of "The Star Spangled Banner" in recent months in a gesture of solidarity to San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick triggered nationwide controversy last year after refusing to stand for the anthem in protest at racial injustice.

Rapinoe, who is openly gay, had defended her support of Kaepernick, saying: "I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties."

The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) however moved to quash any further protests, confirming passage of a new rule on Saturday which requires players to stand "respectfully" during playing of the anthem.

In a statement emailed to AFP by her agent, Rapinoe said Monday she would accept the new law.

"It is an honor to represent the USA and all that we stand for -- to be able to pull on the red, white and blue to play a game that I love," Rapinoe said.

"I will respect the new bylaw the leadership at USSF has put forward. That said, I believe we should always value the use of our voice and platform to fight for equality of every kind."

The anthem issue has divided US sport since Kaepernick's first protest during the 49ers pre-season schedule last year.

Rapinoe had attracted the ire of the USSF last September when she knelt during the anthem before an international against Thailand.

The federation issued a statement after the game noting that players were expected to stand.

"As part of the privilege to represent your country, we have an expectation that our players and coaches will stand and honor our flag while the National Anthem is played," the USSF said.

On Sunday, former US international Alexi Lalas waded into the debate, declaring during a Major League Soccer broadcast that the USSF anthem rule was the "right thing to do."

"I'm gonna stand, I'm gonna put my hand over my heart and I am going to sing," Lalas said.

"And I believe that all U.S. national team players should be required to do that. Because, just because we live in the land of the free, doesn't mean that we are free to do anything that we want."