Ada Hegerberg devoted her life to reaching that stage in Paris on Dec. 3, where she was to receive the Ballon d’Or as women’s world player of the year.
Years of intense training and sacrifice turned the Norwegian forward into the most dominant soccer player on the planet, someone whose 31 goals in 20 games during Division 1 Féminine play drove Olympique Lyonnais to its 12th straight league title and third straight Champions League. At just 23 years old, she might already be the best player in the world.
That could have been the big story of the first-ever female Ballon d’Or winner, but it wasn’t. Rather, an inappropriate suggestion from ceremony host Martin Solveig that Hegerberg twerk on stage seized the headlines.
That was unfortunate for Hegerberg, who laid out in The Players’ Tribune on Sunday that she just wants respect, both for herself and for the world of women’s soccer.
Ada Hegerberg gives her side of Ballon d’Or incident
In her piece, Hegerberg recounts the sheer joy she and her family experienced when she learned she had won, the grueling and thankless workload she took on to become an elite soccer player, and the fun of the Ballon d’Or ceremony leading up to her presentation.
It’s a side of the story that many who know her only thanks to Solveig’s comment aren’t aware of, and Hegerberg says the comment won’t be what she remembers from the ceremony:
When I got up onstage to accept my award, everything was calm. Everything was warm. Everything was perfect. I looked out into the crowd and saw so many amazing footballers. The women’s game and the men’s game were side by side.
What an incredible, beautiful moment.
I will not let it be ruined by a stupid joke from a presenter.
It didn’t ruin it in the moment.
It does not ruin it in my memory.
Hegerberg later called the ceremony the “most fantastic night of my life” and said that she wasn’t even aware that Solveig’s comment and her icy reaction had gone viral until hours after the ceremony.
The overarching lesson of Hegerberg’s story is that while she doesn’t care much about Solveig’s request, it’s symptomatic of the sexism and inequality that women’s soccer faces. Per Hegerberg, that can only be changed if the world understands that the experiences of male and female soccer players aren’t very different:
I could speak for hours about equality, and what needs to change in football, and in society as a whole. But in the end, everything comes back to respect.
I never saw myself as a women’s footballer. Not when I was in my tiny village in Norway. Not when I was suffering in Germany. Not when I finally made it to Lyon.
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.
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