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4 December 2018

Everything wrong with telling a prizewinning female footballer to twerk

The Ballon d’Or was awarded to a woman for the first time. Who was then asked to celebrate with sexy dancing.

By Kelly Welles

The Ballon d’Or is arguably the most prestigious football award in the world. A lavish ceremony takes place at a glamorous location every year and those who have performed above and beyond expected levels of glory are honoured. Everyone puts on a smashing suit, gets a new trim and is honoured by players past and present. There’s probably a cracking buffet.

There was an additional frisson to this year’s event though. The Ballon d’Or winner is essentially an open secret – it’s been Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi for the last ten years – but rumours have been swirling for months that Croatia’s Luka Modric was in the frame after a superb year for both club and country. To see the deadlock broken was to be a spectacle in itself, ensuring that every writer, commentator and football hanger on you can imagine was in the room, pockets full of vol au vents.

In the event, Luka’s little winning face did make it into the papers, but the headlines were unexpectedly snatched by DJ Martin Solveig, who was scheduled to present the inaugural Fifa Women’s Ballon d’Or. Here is everything wrong with what happened:

The first Women’s Ballon’ d’Or only happened in 2018

It’s new. Well, ish. They’ve given out trophies to women who they consider to be high achievers in a specific calendar year before, but this is the first time it’s been called Women’s Ballon’ d’Or officially. Lieke Martens won last year’s version.

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And of course the first winner would be asked if she can twerk…

The winners were called out onto a mezzanine to look a bit awkward and wave the bulky golden football trophy for a bit until their arms got tired. Then they were invited to the stage to be congratulated. When Ada Hegerberg, the inaugural winner, walked out onto the stage, Solveig and former Spurs and France legend David Ginola were waiting for her. Solveig broke into a chat about a dance he’d been preparing with Kylian Mbappe (frighteningly talented Paris St Germain & France forward) and Hegerberg laughed and smiled. Everyone was having fun. Then Solveig asked if she could twerk. Hegerberg’s face dropped like that of a woman whose just returned from the bathroom to be informed by the lead singer of the band that her skirt has been tucked into her pants for the last 20 minutes and everyone has seen it.

…Rather than focusing on the fact she is a three-times women’s champion

Bit rude, isn’t it? Especially when you learn that since signing for Lyon in 2014, Ada Hegerberg has won four league titles, three French Cups, three Women’s Champions League titles and a number of individual awards including BBC Women’s Footballer of The Year. She’s 23 and had every right to expect to be treated as a the professional she is when she walked onto that stage in her best dress. 

Also, sexism is epidemic in the football industry

Football still believes that the womb deflects any attempts to absorb the intricacies of the offside rule, despite the fact that most blokes barely understand the active player rule and default to “well, my team were robbed” whenever a decision is made. It’s OK. Even Fifa’s ex president Sepp Blatter believed the best way to improve the women’s game was for them to wear tighter shorts. He is also presumably an advocate of twerking. 

And Ada Hederberg looked genuinely gutted

Her face at the moment she processed Solveig’s question is worth a thousand of anyone’s words. But she retained her dignity, as women who have been publicly humiliated by men on stages often have, perhaps because she realised the moment was not about her. It was about what the honour represents to girls and women who play football and face this sort of ignorance every single day. She accepted Solveig’s apology gracefully, absolved him of his mistake and refocused the conversation towards her fans, telling them to “please, believe in yourselves.”

While Solveig is a champion of the non-apology

Is tweeting “Apologies to anyone who may have been offended, this was a joke, probably a bad one, and I want to apologise,” an apology? Or simply an acknowledgement that people, perhaps those who don’t have a sense of humour, failed to pick up on his “gag”?

Solveig plays records for a living and presumably has a following because he understands that different records have different functions. The “Time to make the club go up… time to shut the club down” principle, if you will. If you get them the wrong way round, you’ve an empty dance floor and angry punters. Women are more or less the same. Ask a woman on a podium dressed in tight shorts if she can twerk and, assuming she’s not having her lunch, she might. Ask a woman accepting an award honouring her contribution to a game she has devoted her entire life to twerk, you might get a golden ball inserted into the closest orifice.