Words by Danny Brown

Can you imagine a World Cup without Messi or Ronaldo? It’s hard to imagine the world’s biggest tournament without it’s biggest players – and even harder to imagine them missing out due to discrimination.

But that’s exactly what will happen this month when Ballon D’Or winner Ada Hegerberg refuses to play in the 2019 Women’s World Cup. Here we take a look at why problems with discrimination are still affecting the Women’s Game.

Ada Hegerberg is one of the best footballers on the planet. The Lyon forward has scored 255 goals in 254 games across her career. She was awarded the Norwegian Gold Ball in 2015 (the first woman to do so in 20 years). She’s won six league titles and four Champions Leagues (at the age of just 23). She was named UEFA Best Women’s Player in Europe in 2016 and BBC Footballer of the Year in 2017 and 2019 – yet she is still faced with sexism wherever she goes.

The most well-publicised example of this came last year, when Hegerberg was asked if ‘she could twerk’ just moments after she collected the first-ever Ballon D’Or Féminin award. It was an awkward and disrespectful question that stole away the headlines from Hegerberg in the biggest moment of her career to date. The same thing would never have happened Luka Modric, the winner of the men’s award, so why was Hegerberg’s victory trivialised in such a way?

The disparity in pay, conditions and treatment between the men’s and women’s international teams faced by Hegerberg in Norway is the reason why she took the decision to stop playing for her national side back in 2017. She has gone on record to say that until the Norwegian Football Federation gives equal treatment to it’s men and women footballers, she will continue to abstain from playing for her country. Here’s what she said about her decision in an interview with ESPN:

“[In Lyon] it’s the amount of respect and the fact that we’re equal in terms of conditions, the pitches we have, eating in the same canteen and really taking part in the club together with the mens team. I was trying to make an impact [on Norway] for a lot of years and I could see that in this system, in the federation, it didn’t fit me at all. I feel like I was placed in a system where I didn’t have a voice.

It was such a hard thing to do. It can’t be easy when a woman stands and tries to be critical in a positive way. For me, it was really important that [the federation] knew what I was talking about, point by point. When the media asked me what I told the federation, I said, that’s between me and them so they can work on it. But it doesn’t seem like they took it in the way they should have. 

Women need to back women in cases like this, even more than we do today. If each woman stands up and uses her voice, imagine how many voices would be together and how strong a mass that would be. It’s impossible to play football in a world among men and not fight for equality. We’re all feminists. Playing football can be damn harsh, but every day is a fight for equality. That’s a fact.”

So far, Hegerberg is the only player to boycott the World Cup altogether – but that doesn’t mean others aren’t standing up for equality in football. Players from USA have filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation due to “institutionalised gender discrimination” in the form of unequal pay and discrimination, alleging their women’s team gets paid on average 40% of what the men’s team does. Denmark and Ireland have also led protests over pay disparity.

Since Hegerberg first went out on strike, the Norweigian FA have begun to make some improvements. Equal pay between the men’s and women’s teams has been promised – making Norway’s FA the first to do this, however there’s still a long way to go before there’s any chance of us seeing Hegerberg pulling on a red shirt for her country again. Her actions are making a real difference, it’s just a shame it takes the world’s best player sitting out a World Cup for these changes to come about in the first place.

Here’s what Norway’s female sporting directer and former player Lise Klaveness had to say about Hegerberg’s actions in an interview given to the Associated Press: “We are happy for this debate to raise attention and respect for women’s soccer in the world. And I do view it as a big change-maker. But I just wish she was in our team.”

When the World Cup kicks off tonight with hosts France taking on South Korea, million will be tune in around the globe to see what will most likely be the best tournament yet for women’s football. As the sport grows in popularity and more people begin take notice of the talent on offer, it’s only a matter of time before equality in football is finally achieved. But sadly for now, athletes like Ada Hegerberg must continue to take a stand in order to be respected for playing the sport they love.

For more information on equality in women’s football, you check out UEFA’s #TimeForAction campaign here.

Click here to read our piece on the Top 5 Kits from the Women’s World Cup.

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