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Exclusive: Soccer Legend Abby Wambach Talks FIFA and Rio

2015 World Cup Champion Abby Wambach retires holding the international record for goals scored.2015 World Cup Champion Abby Wambach retires holding the international record for goals scored.
2015 World Cup Champion Abby Wambach retires holding the international record for goals scored.Photograph via Getty Images

American soccer legend Abby Wambach may have retired from “the beautiful game,” but she still gets a kick out of playing as herself in FIFA 16. These days, she spends a lot of time playing video games, including Sega and Nintendo’s new Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games for Nintendo 3DS (which includes soccer, of course).

Wambach remains the all-time women’s leading goal scorer in international play. She helped her U.S. Women’s National Teams win two Olympic gold medals and the 2015 World Cup championship. The 35-year-old has been scoring goals her entire life, becoming the all-time leading scorer at the University of Florida before graduating to U.S. women’s pro soccer league teams in Washington, Florida, and Western New York.

Wambach spent some time with Nintendo to promote the just-released Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games game. She talks about soccer, video games, and the FIFA reorganization in this exclusive interview.

Fortune: How big a deal was it for Electronic Arts to add women soccer players to FIFA 16?

Wambach: I think it’s massive. It’s a huge step in the right direction. I would like to see more women in video games. But being put in FIFA 16 last year was amazing. One of the more proud days of my life was when that video game came out.

Fortune: Have you tried playing as your FIFA 16 character?

Wambach: Yeah, I have tried and it’s amazing. I’m spending a lot of time now on this Nintendo gaming system. I was playing last night and I’ve been playing all day today and it is truly fun. I spend a ton of time on airplanes now that I’m done playing soccer, and I’m flying all over the world doing speaking engagements and whatnot. This will be perfect for me to kill some time, rather than having to read certain research books about what I’m doing next in my life.

Fortune: What are your thoughts on the recent changes FIFA has undergone?

Wambach: The reform that FIFA has gone through—that the new president that has just come on—is going to take FIFA into the next generation. In my opinion, the most potential for growth in the next generation is through the women’s game. Let’s hope that the FIFA video game that the women are in is the beginning. We’re hoping that’s the beginning of women being given equal pay, so that we don’t have this big pay gap. There needs to be more women making decisions in FIFA.

Fortune: What role do you feel that soccer video games today like FIFA 16 will play in inspiring future female soccer players?

Wambach: Any time a girl can look up and see another woman doing something successfully at an ability and a level which we were able to—if you can see a woman in an executive position as a CEO or even a Commander in Chief—that girl stands a little taller. And think about the 10-year-old boy, her counterpart at school, treating her with a little bit more respect. What happens is, generationally, you’ll find that there will be way more acceptance for women in the workplace and there will be more acceptance for women in the center page. It’s just a “has to happen” kind of thing. It’s just a matter of when.

Fortune: Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games features soccer and other Olympic Games. How do you see this game teaching kids about different sports?

Wambach: It’s so important, especially for those games based on sports that are very obscure like ski jumping, BMX, or beach volleyball. These sports are real sports and in order for kids to develop into successful human beings you need to have opportunities. And the more information, and the more opportunities that they have, the better people and the more successful people we will have in the next generation. That’s why video games are not always bad. Playing too much, sure, that can be bad. But what I like about the Nintendo 3DS is that when you set it up and put it in your pocket, it acts like a pedometer and it tracks your steps, so it’s also a cool fitness thing too.

Fortune: How have you seen what you have achieved on the field over your career impact women’s soccer?

Wambach: I want kids to be involved in any sport. We all like playing video games, no doubt, but there has to be things that are earned. I was outside pretty much my whole childhood. My mom and dad would literally lock me out of the house with my brothers and sisters and say, “Go play and come back for dinner.” Gone are those days, and gone are those days that kids know how to play.

Fortune: Do you have a favorite moment when you look back at everything you’ve accomplished in your career?

Wambach: That’s a tough one. Women’s Championship has to be up there, for sure. I’m very proud of the fact that I was able to be a part of such successful teams. And to create so much momentum that our team—and virtually all the players on them—are kind of famous now. We don’t really see the “fortune” in it quite yet, but hopefully in the years to come those new rookie studs will get that fortune bit all sorted out.

This interview has been edited for grammar and clarity.