Hard Battle Against Sexist Prejudice
At Paris’ Grand Palais on December 3, Croatia’s Luka Modric was honoured as the best football player of the planet in 2018. He led his side to the World Cup finals of the World Cup this year. More significantly, this year saw the first Ballon d’Or award for the world’s top women’s footballer: the winner, Norway’s Ada Hegerberg, who plays for the French professional club Olympique Lyonnais. At 23, Hegerberg’s achievements with her club are already stunning, winning France’s first division football league as well as lifting Europe’s club champions’ trophy for her club. Instead of celebrating the (long-delayed) recognition of women in the world’s most popular sport, the ceremony plunged into controversy, courtesy one toe-curling comment by its French host, DJ Martin Solveig. Moments after Hegerberg accepted her award, Solveig asked her whether she could ‘twerk’ — perform a sexually suggestive dance popularised by hip-hop artistes.
Solveig seemed to have forgotten that Hegerberg was being rewarded for her skills at a very competitive sport, and was not on stage to titillate the audience. Of course, he apologised for the stunt, insisting it was intended in jest. Poor joke. It undermines French pioneers like Nicolas de Condorcet who wrote that women should enjoy the same rights as men in 1790, and successors like Simone de Beauvoir and Hélène Cixous, whose work forced the world to formalise rules and legislation promoting gender equality.
With the exception of pro tennis and bits of athletics, much sporting activity is still dominated by men, as players, administrators and fans. Fifa, which runs world football, took a great leap forward by honouring women who play the game. Despite Solveig, this should empower women athletes everywhere.