Imagine this: it’s the biggest day of your career, probably of your entire life. France Football has finally decided to award a Ballon d’Or, soccer’s biggest prize, to a woman for the first time. As you sit in your seat, you hear your name called. All of the sacrifices and hardships that you faced were all leading to this one moment. And then, on stage, surrounded by soccer’s biggest names, the co-host asks you the question, “Do you know how to twerk?”
This is exactly the situation in which Ada Hegerberg found herself on Dec. 3. At the young age of 23, she has already scored nearly 300 goals across international and domestic competition. And coming off of a phenomenal season with Olympique Lyon, which saw her scoring 46 goals in 29 appearances, Ada was the well-deserved winner of this historic award. What everyone should have been talking about following her win was all of her accomplishments, but instead, the focus was on what the co-host, DJ Martin Solveig, said to her.
Solveig later apologized, stating that it was a joke and that he did not mean to offend anyone. Regardless of whether he realized the implications of what he was saying, this is just another example of the sexism that is still prevalent in the sports world in general, with soccer being no exception. In addition to the disparities in pay, women athletes are not given the same respect as their male counterparts. For instance, during the 2016 Summer Olympics, there were calls for commentators to refer to female athletes as “women” rather than “girls.” This is something small, something that some may say is insignificant, but given the fact that male athletes aren’t called boys, it is a simple fix that makes a big difference in how females are viewed. Even the lack of coverage of sporting events is a symbol of this. Networks still fail to adequately cover women’s sports and, often times when they do cover it, the commentary is lackluster and short. Women’s stories are up to 50% shorter than men’s stories on "SportsCenter."
When female athletes continue to be treated as less capable and worthy than their male counterparts, it makes it seem like it is okay for people to say things like Solveig did. There is absolutely no chance that he would have felt comfortable saying anything like this to Luka Modrić, the winner of the male Ballon d’Or, or to Kylian Mbappé, the winner of the Best Young Player award. It is clear that the difference between how Ada Hegerberg was treated versus the male award winners comes from a difference in how they are viewed and the respect given to them. There must be systemic changes in terms of equal pay and equal coverage, but one of the biggest changes that needs to come in the sporting world is a change in culture. Women need to be seen not as female athletes that play at an inferior level, but as athletes that play just as well and just as hard as the men in their field.
It is not fair for Ada Hegerberg to have to endure this treatment on soccer’s biggest stage. But she is no stranger to sexism in the sport that she loves—in 2017, she permanently stepped away from the Norwegian national team because she was frustrated with how the women’s team was being treated.
She, and all female athletes, should be given the same respect that men are given, and they should not have their monumental moments belittled by inane and inappropriate questions. As Ada writes in her article for The Player’s Tribune (which is incredible and something I highly recommend reading), “We work just as hard as any footballer, period. We go through the same experiences and heartaches. We make the same sacrifices. We leave our families behind to chase our dreams, too. It is simply about respect.” People need to start focusing more on accomplishments and skills rather than sex appeal or dance skills. They are athletes, equal in every way to men, and should be treated as such.