The Ballon d'Or twerking incident proves women's sport is still not taken seriously

Imagine, for a second, getting to the top of your chosen field, in a room full of professionals, with your family watching on with pride, and then being asked ‘do you know how to twerk?’

Molly Hudson
Tuesday 04 December 2018 13:25
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Martin Solveig sparks controversy by asking women’s Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg 'if she can twerk'

For Ada Hegerberg, last night should have been one of the best moments she will ever experience in her sporting life. In a room full of footballing greats and among a table of 15 of the very best women’s footballers, it was her who was chosen as the very first women’s Ballon d’Or winner.

The prestigious trophy for the best female player had been a long time coming, but not only was the winner a fitting one – scoring over 250 career goals at just 23 – her speech was too, as she praised France Football, “together we will make a difference”, she said. What came next could do more for women’s football, and female sport as a whole, than anything else.

DJ Martin Solveig asked Hegerberg to twerk. That as a statement alone is ridiculous, completely irrelevant, and at best an incredibly misjudged comment. But dig a little deeper and it is perhaps unsurprising. The men’s Ballon d’Or, known across the world, was presented by David Ginola; French Player of the Year, PFA and FWA Player of the Year. The women’s award was presented by Solveig, No 1 in Austria in 2010.

The sad reality is this was not the first time, or the last time, Ada Hegerberg will receive sexist abuse or comments in her career. From a young age, she would likely have been ridiculed for being a woman in a male dominated sport, earning less in wages, playing in worse conditions and given scant acclaim despite her incredible talent.

But as Twitter reacted to Solveig’s idiocy, something felt different. Usually women’s sport is treated with disinterest or ridicule. Last night, footballing Twitter erupted as one, in support of Hegerberg and disgust at Solveig.

The night may not be remembered for the first women’s Ballon d’Or, but instead the moment where women’s football was finally recognised. Those who may have not had a clue who Hegerberg was, or who she played for, instead watched her incredible highlights clips on YouTube and wondered, along with the rest of us, how she could possibly have been asked whether she could twerk.

Solveig’s apology was rather like shutting a gate after the horse had bolted. The evidently rushed Twitter video lasted just 53 seconds, and began not with an apology, but instead with his shock and amazement that he had done anything wrong. The word sorry appeared at 52 seconds, and meant little for the damage had already been done.

Solveig came out of this with little dignity or compassion. Hegerberg handled it with total class. Imagine, for a second, getting to the top of your chosen field, in a room full of professionals, with your family watching on with pride, and then being asked such a degrading question. Her response was a firm no, as the camera cut to an embarrassed Kylian Mbappe, winner of the inaugural Kopa trophy, who marks the newest generation of sporting stars.

For Mbappe such a question was ludicrous, as it would be for many modern athletes, who at clubs like Manchester City are viewed as equals, regardless of gender.

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The days of women’s sports stars abused because of their “men’s physiques”, the assumption that females cannot understand the offside rule, or must be lesbians because they can do a few keepy-uppies, are sadly not quite behind us.

Women’s football in this country has a long way to go since the FA’s banning of it in 1921. Shifting attitudes is not without its challenges; just take a look at the abuse and disregard Serena Williams has been subjected to, despite almost two decades at the top of her game.

Solveig may be ridiculed and disregarded in many pieces like this in the coming days. But his throwaway comment may have done the opposite of what was intended.

Instead of bringing a footballing star crashing back to earth, it is rocketing her to new heights, and exposing sexism on a world stage as it has on few occasions ever before. Hegerberg may suddenly have found an even stronger fanbase – the vast majority of the population, male AND female, to be disillusioned with Solveig’s comments in the 21st century.

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