Last week, Martin Solveig made one of the biggest faux-pas in sports history, reopening the debate on sexism in sport
Ada Hegerberg is only 23. Despite this, her professional footballing career already spans close to a decade. Rubbing shoulders with adults in her native Norway for Kolbotn IL, from the age of fifteen no less, it was made perfectly clear from the outset that she had a spark that would separate her from her peers. Making the move to mainland Europe whilst still in her teens, a couple of solid seasons in Germany followed before she was called up to Europe’s elite in France.
It’s a hugely exciting time to be a supporter of Olympique Lyonnais. The men’s team have an energetic young core of players who are capable of some truly frenetic football at times. They have been so good, in fact, that Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City have failed to add the French team to the rapidly growing case of scalps they keep back in Eastlands. For all intents and purposes, they are taking over the crown of the footballing hipster’s team of choice, once the rare remit of Napoli and Borussia Dortmund. If the men’s team, however, is plucky and punching above their weight, it is the women’s team that is the heavyweight champion of the world.
Lyonnais Féminin solely hold the floor as Europe’s unequivocal elite. Of the last eight Women’s Champions League finals, Lyon have featured in seven, winning five. The globally beloved Real Madrid can only dream of these records. Lyon are currently on a streak of three consecutive victories in the competition, a run that doesn’t look like it will stop at anytime soon. They are also, by far and away, the most dominant side in France, currently sitting pretty with 16 top-flight titles to their name - 10 more than second-best Paris FC. It was only right that the rising starlet from Scandinavia take her talents here.
Since the move to France, Hegerberg has barely had time to look back. Only nineteen on arrival, her tag as "one to watch" quickly took off. Take a quick look at a YouTube compilation and it’s easy to see just how exceptional she is as a footballer. Lyon knock the ball past the opposition with sheer confidence, it verges on arrogance actually, and Hegerberg is so often the one that starts these moves off. She’s so often the finisher too. There’s nothing overly glitzy about her game, the cynic would say she’s workmanlike, but a fairer assertion is that she’s as clinical as they come. Whether right, left or head, the Norwegian acts as the complete and total forward. It’s an approach that has seen her average well over a goal per game for Lyon and when it was announced that there would be a female award, for the first time ever, in the prestigious Ballon d’Or ceremony held this Monday past, there was only ever going to be one winner.
The venue, as always, was Paris. It had all the hallmarks of a night created to celebrate our enduring love of football. The world’s most elite players all gathered in the same hall, spotlights aplenty, all headed aptly by former professional David Ginola. The Ballon d’Or has always been subjective, awarded by France Football each year to the best male in Europe. However, growing competition from their former collaborators, FIFA and their equivalent The Best awards, has seen the award expand to include both women and "youth". This was rightly regarded as a real benchmark, a stepping stone for the female game. The Ballon d’Or is much older than any FIFA equivalent, as well as holding much more in the way of pedigree and respectability (to my knowledge France Football have never been investigated for corruption.)
However problematic it is, Ada’s exploits do not receive the same coverage as this year’s male recipients of Luka Modrić and Kylian Mbappé. Even if the audience were not quite sure how many goals she had scored that year, or indeed how good they doubtlessly were, this was her moment to shine. Her, wrongly rare, moment of recognition. French DJ Martin Solveig was the chosen presenter of Hegerberg’s particular award:
“You saw that I prepared a little celebration for Kylian, (Mbappé, winner of the Kopa Trophy) so we said we’re going to do something similar. Do you know how to twerk?"
It was strange that Hegerberg left it at that. Nobody would have blamed her for losing her collective calm. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Indeed, perhaps it’s what we should’ve expected given that the host had about as much to do with football as Jamie Oliver. A DJ who was last relevant in 2011 asking someone to perform a dance that had its 15 minutes of fame around the same time, sounds about right no?
No. It’s totally out of order. Why are we not taken aback? Why are we not shocked? Why is this played off as "just a joke?" Instead of breaking stereotypes, all this ceremony did was re-affirm them, that of a lewd Frenchman sexualising and ogling a woman the best part of 20 years his junior.
This is yet another example of the enduring sexism that still exists within modern sport and it’s something that we need to stamp out if we are to move forward. The Hegerberg case seems to be another example of the assumption that to be a woman in this sphere, is to be sexualised at some point or another. Andy Murray came out in defence of the Norwegian on Monday night, but his sport has so often been guilty of a blatant double standard. Serena Williams was banned from donning the now infamous black bodysuit that she wore in this year’s French Open. It is deemed “unacceptable attire,” regardless of the fact that this uniform helps to alleviate the irritation of minor blood clots inherited from her recent pregnancy. Similarly, Alizé Cornet was penalised for changing shirt on court in this year’s US Open. Cornet mistakenly put her shirt on back to front - no big deal - she quickly fixed it in a handful of seconds, putting it on the right way again. She was hit with a “code violation.” There are no such punishments for male players. Cornet hardly even showed skin. Look at the ambiguity of these terms too. These players are being punished, yes, but it doesn’t seem it is for any just reason other than to "punish" their sexuality, as bizarre as that sounds.
Unfortunately, these seem to be mere drops in a wholly more significant ocean. Muirfield Golf Course in East Lothian fighting tooth and nail to keep its draconian male-only policy; Caster Semenya constantly having to "prove" her "status" as female; “1996-2006: All three winter Olympics favoured men… by significant margins”; strictly stick contact in women’s Lacrosse; female equivalent of the Tour de France usually made up of scarcely two stages; women play three sets at tennis Grand Slams compared to the male five; women take 5 dives in Olympic competition, men take 6. I could very easily go on.
Ada Hegerberg’s victory in the Ballon d’Or should still be celebrated. Her talent is totally undeniable. The fact that seven out of the fifteen spots in the women’s shortlist were occupied by Lyon players is also something we should be paying close attention to. People ranted and raved about the star-studded AC Milan squad of the late 1980s, the Dutch trident of Van Basten, Rijkaard and Gullit taking up the top three spots in the male competition of 1988, yet we struggle to summon up even a modicum of the same fanfare for this counterpart female team. It is fitting to conclude with another sign of just how far we still have to go. Lyonnais Féminin have accrued roughly 1.25 million euros from their 5 Champions League victories. They would have to do the same a further 71 times to equal the prize money won by Real Madrid, just for winning the final of the men’s competition, in their last triumph this May.