Ada Hegerberg’s historic Ballon d’Or win feels like a missed opportunity
Martin Solveig incident isn’t a return to the past because sexism is still all too present
Lyon’s Ada Hegerberg with the Ballon d’Or. Photograph: Emmanuel Foudrot/Reuters
It should have been about moving forward, a historic moment: the first women’s Ballon d’Or should have been a celebration.
Because what a player to celebrate. Ada Hegerberg is still only 23, with her best years lying ahead of her. Having lit up the 2013 European Championships at 17, where Norway finished runners-up, she has gone on to win a hat-trick of Champions League trophies, this year breaking the record for the most goals in a Champions League season – matching Ronaldo on 15 – and scored 33 goals in 21 games for her fourth league title with Lyon. The Norwegian picked up the Uefa best player award in 2016, the BBC women’s footballer of the year in 2017 and now the Ballon d’Or.
She is a phenomenal footballer. Yet on Tuesday we wake up feeling as though the opportunity to take a step forward has been missed. It is not a return to the past, because unfortunately sexism is all too present. DJ Martin Solveig demonstrated that when he asked Hegerberg to twerk on stage, belittling her extraordinary talent and showing that, for way too many people, the most important thing about a woman is still how she uses her body for the entertainment of men. Her curt “no” before heading to leave was a testament to her composure.
Was Luka Modric, the male winner, asked to demonstrate his best grind? Of course not. He never would be. Not even as “a joke”.
Solveig tweeted the most non-apology apology: “I explained to [HEGERBERG]and she told me she understood it was a joke. Nevertheless, my apologies to anyone who may have been offended. Most importantly, congratulations to Ada.” I’m sure Hegerberg appreciated his explanation. But this is not an isolated event. It is not one rogue presenter. And it is not a joke. Sexism is ingrained into society, and sport reflects that.
The 20-year-old Canadian tennis player Eugenie Bouchard was asked during an on-court interview at the 2015 Australian Open if she could “give us a twirl?”. Raymond Moore, the former CEO of Indian Wells, described female tennis players as “physically attractive” before saying: “If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born because they have carried this sport. They really have.” His views on equal pay were disappointingly backed up by Novak Djokovic. Serena Williams had her cat suit, specially designed to help her circulation after coming close to death in childbirth, banned by the French Tennis Federation.
A retired footballer at an event I attended just one month ago said, on stage, the difference between men’s and women’s football is that “the men’s is physical and the women are beautiful”. Chelsea FC’s manager, Maurizio Sarri, in March, said to a journalist: “You’re a woman, you’re beautiful, for those two reasons I won’t tell you to go fuck yourself.” And at the end of the awards last night, French World Cup winner Antoine Griezmann congratulated Modric and “that girl from Lyon” in an interview.
How depressing that this should overshadow a worthy attempt to shine a bigger spotlight on the best of women’s football. Unfortunately that spotlight ended up highlighting how much more is still to be done until it is treated with the respect it deserves.
Suzanne Wrack is a women’s football columnist for the Guardian.