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Opinion: Hegerberg deserved better in shining moment

James Thorogood
December 4, 2018

Ada Hegerberg was right to call the inaugural women's Ballon d’Or a "huge step for women's football." However, Martin Solveig's comments threatened to knock it two steps back, writes DW's James Thorogood.

Martin Solveig and Olympique Lyonnais' Ada Hegerberg with the Women's Ballon d'Or award
Image: Reuters/B. Tessier

If ever there was a night for a woman to take center stage in a "man's world" it was Monday night at France Football's Ballon d'Or ceremony.

It was a night of glitz and glamour aimed at highlighting exceptional individual performances over the course of the calendar year, but one that also marked a milestone moment for women's football.

Hegerberg a trailblazer

A first Ballon d'Or that gave women's football the respect and recognition it deserved and, in Hegerberg, a worthy winner not just for her efforts on the pitch, but those off of it as well. 

"I want to say thanks to my teammates because this would not have been possible without them, my coach or our president Jean-Michel Aulas," Hegerberg said at the ceremony at the Grand Palais, just off the Champs Elysees. "I also want to thank France Football. This is a huge step for women's football."

While Luka Modric broke Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo's stranglehold on the men's prize, Hegerberg seized the opportunity to try and break the stranglehold of inequality in the women's game — a subject she's very vocal on.

"A lot of things need to be done to make the conditions better for women who play football," she said regarding her decision to step down from international duty with Norway.

"It's all about how we respect women's football. I don't think the respect has been there. Sometimes you have to take tough decisions to stay true to yourself. I wish the national team the best, though. We just follow two different paths at the moment. I have no regrets with the decision I made."

Read more: Afghanistan's women's team accuse FA of sexual abuse

The right kind of role model

In one powerful speech she not only used the platform to promote women's football in a positive manner, she also gave young women something to aspire to in a sporting and personal context.

Fußball Frauen - VFL Wolfsburg vs Olympique Lyon
Ada Hegerberg was part of the Lyon women's side that beat Wolfsburg in the Champions League final in 2018Image: picture-alliance/dpa/I. Fassbender

"Sometimes you have episodes or situations where you feel like, 'Damn, we're in such a man's world,'" she said. "That could be in a daily situation, being a woman, to be honest. Outside of the pitch as well. There's a lot of discussions to take and to bring on the table as a woman in 2018. Being a women's footballer and winning the Ballon d'Or tonight is a step for me to take that action, personally […] I would like to end this speech with some words to girls all over the world: please believe in yourselves."

They were words that provided harsh truths, but also oozed class. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Martin Solveig's choice of question after she had given such a poignant speech: "Do you know how to twerk?"

It was crass and inappropriate question that underlined the exact issues the 23-year-old had addressed. At a moment when Hegerberg was rightly being recognized for her sporting achievements, a provocative dance became the talking point - the Norwegian's reaction, and that of the crowd, spoke volumes.

While claiming he stole Hergerberg's thunder would give Solveig too much clout, there's no getting away from the fact that she deserved better. 

Following a social media backlash the DJ has subsequently apologized. Irrespective of his intentions though, it was unfortunately a stark reminder of the uphill battle women athletes' still face on a daily basis.

For Hegerberg, the Ballon d'Or was a "huge step forward for women's football” and that is how it should be remembered. It's such a shame that one question also threatened to knock it two steps back.

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James Thorogood Sports reporter and editor, host of Project FußballJMThorogood
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