And the prize for the most recent display of tokenism towards women goes to France Football

The Ballon d’Or ceremony was a golden opportunity for women, messed up by men

There’s no good time to host an awards ceremony, but France Football magazine decided that the best time to stage the Ballon d’Or was during a busy set of women’s international fixtures. Naturally, some of women football’s elite did not turn up, as most of them had a match either that night or over the next two days.

Thus, the Ballon d’Or ceremony found that it is, in fact, relatively easy to further disrespect women, after the first female recipient of the award, Ada Hegerberg, was asked during the 2018 ceremony by presenter Martin Solveig whether she knew how to twerk.

In keeping with custom, the latest ceremony kicked off with uncomfortable speeches and awkward presenters, and the announcement of the results attracted the usual online reaction. After all, without fanboys and fangirls on social media wishing death upon random jurors, does a football awards ceremony even exist?

From a women’s football perspective, FC Barcelona won club of the year, having shattered attendance records and dominated most competitions in which they participated. Thankfully, Barcelona’s Patri Guijarro and Mapi Leon were available for the ceremony, as they had refused to re-join the Spanish national team, citing personal reasons, and saying “mentally, we are not ready”.


In unrelated news, Fifa has recently banned former Spanish Football Association president Luis Rubiales from all football-related activity for three years. Rubiales kissed Jenni Hermoso on the lips during the trophy presentation after Spain’s victory over England in August’s World Cup final. Hermoso said the kiss was not consensual.

Guijarro and Leon were joined on stage by Xavier Puig, the Barcelona director in charge of women’s football, as well as Barcelona president Joan Laporta, who is one of seven people being investigated by Spanish prosecutors over suspected bribery of a former refereeing official. All deny any wrongdoing. Laporta was voted in for a second stint as Barcelona president in 2021 – during the election campaign he struggled to name a player on the club’s women’s team.

And then we had Rema, a musician. Rema politely took the time out to shake all the male nominees’ hands but totally forgot that football awards include women footballers. To be fair, you could hardly blame him, given Fifa and other football organisers have tended to forget women’s football, too.

And then the crowning moment came when Aitana Bonmatí was about to be announced as this year’s winner of the Ballon d’Or Féminin. Apparently the show’s organisers had heard Novak Djokovic was in Paris, as he attended the Rugby World Cup final with Rita Ora and Jason Mamoa. No doubt Djokovic was delighted when he got a call from his agent telling him to stick around town for a while as some women’s footballer was to get a shiny golden ball.

Djokovic, lest we forget, faced a fierce backlash in 2016 for speaking out against the notion of women tennis players being paid the same as men. He later apologised and has since said he favours equal pay for everyone.

Either way, Bonmatí looked extremely pleased and proud at the prospect of being given the Ballon d’Or Féminin, the latest accolade in a calendar year in which she has won almost every prize available. Weirdly, however, she arrived at an empty podium, speech in hand but no award to be seen.

Cue some incredibly awkward rummaging by flunkeys backstage. Time seemed to crawl embarrassingly by until, at last, the Ballon d’Or Féminin appeared before the world’s most deserving recipient.

Throughout the awards we had the best young men’s player, goalscorer, goalkeeper and various random bits. But we only had one women’s award, and even then, it couldn’t be presented correctly.

On what should have been a night to celebrate our footballers and the greatness shown on and off the pitch, it was only confirmed that women were an afterthought, an addition to the event rather than athletes fit to be celebrated and highlighted.

Award ceremonies may be overblown yawnfests but for most of these female athletes, this ceremony might be the only time that they’re in the same room as their male counterparts. This is one of the rare times that all media outlets, decision-makers and the odd TikTok “star” are in the same room, with all eyes on the one stage.

And yet, it felt like women were been told they should just be grateful to be there. That they should be grateful that they are part of what is clearly an unequal game.

If scenes like this are deemed acceptable at the top level, we can only imagine what happens when the lights are switched off, the red carpet is rolled up, the microphones are removed, and organisers are free to act and say what they feel.