- Ada Hegerberg, the winner of the 2018 Ballon d’Or, is not playing at the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
- Hegerberg said in 2017 that she would not play for Norway because she felt the women’s team was not treated equally to the men’s and that there were internal problems with the culture.
- Norway has made some changes to its program since Hegerberg’s announcement, but she said she felt comfortable with her decision, despite some in the soccer world questioning her.
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When the 2019 Women’s World Cup kicks off, the best player in the world won’t be suiting up.
Ada Hegerberg of Norway has claimed that title in recent years, winning the 2018 Ballon d’Or and four straight Champions League titles with French club Olympique Lyonnais.
However, after Norway’s poor showing in the 2017 European Championships, in which they scored no goals and no points, Hegerberg said she would not suit up in the 2019 World Cup because of frustrations with Norway’s handling of women’s soccer.
Hegerberg believed women’s soccer is not as prioritised as men’s soccer and that women are not treated equally to men. In addition to pay disparities (which Norway later took steps to fix, with men giving up a portion of their fees to make up the difference, according to The Wall Street Journal), Hegerberg said they do not have access to the same conditions.
“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 a part in the club together with the men’s team,” Hegerberg told ESPN’s Bonnie Ford.
Hegerberg also criticised the culture of the team, perhaps stemming from disparities in the development of women’s soccer vs. men’s soccer in Norway. She told Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten in 2017 that she felt like a worse player every time she left the national team. Hegerberg also said the team was lacking a desire to get better.
“[Passion.] That’s what has been missing, in my opinion. It’s constantly said that we should be pushing our potential, but it’s not happening in practice. Then it becomes difficult for individuals to grasp it. I feel like I’ve done that, but I can’t just be introspective. That is why I have come to the choice I have made because that culture is not there.”
Hegerberg told Ford that she spoke to the Norwegian Football Federation, Norway’s governing body for soccer, to express her critiques. She later told reporters that she would keep what she said between her and the federation.
In 2018, Norway hired Lise Klaveness, an ex-national team player, to be the director of both the men’s and women’s programs. Klaveness had said she hoped Hegerberg would reconsider her decision, according to The Journal, but Hegerberg was firm in her stance.
In 2019, the U.S. Women’s National Team filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against U.S. Soccer over pay disparity with the men’s national team and working conditions.
Hegerbeg told Ford that the U.S. women’s team had stood together, a big difference from Norway.
“They have got the guts, and they’re together about it,” Hegerberg said. “That’s the next thing. 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.”
However, as SB Nation’s James Dator noted, Hegerberg is the highest-paid woman in club soccer in the world (among reported salaries). That gives her the ability to take a stand against the national team, which other women on the Norwegian team may not be able to afford.
Some in the soccer world have expressed confusion over Hegerberg’s stance. Former U.S. national team member Heather O’Reilly said that if the best men’s players were skipping the World Cup, there would be a clearer reason.
I don’t mean to beat a dead horse (what a weird saying) but why exactly is Hegerberg not playing with Norway? If Messi or Ronaldo opted to not play in a World Cup the world would know why not with clarity
— Heather O'Reilly (@HeatherOReilly) May 2, 2019
Ariane Hingst, a former German soccer player, said on Fox Sports: “Just ask yourself, why did none of her teammates back her up in saying, I don’t wanna play for Norway anymore. It’s not as if the whole team agreed we need a change. It was just one player.”
Former U.S. player Alexi Lalas said he thinks Hegerberg will regret her decision.
“This is not just some player. This is as if Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo decided not to play in the World Cup,” Lalas said. “And we’d be on their doorstep demanding some clarity and we don’t have that clarity. So, my question to Ada Hegerberg is: What do you want, exactly? And ultimately it could be completely reasonable, but there’s been this generalization, and until we know exactly what she wants, it’s difficult to assess the situation.
“We’re gonna be deprived of a great player playing on this stage, and I think in time – maybe not now – but in time she will regret it.”
Hegerberg told Ford that she has been comfortable with her decision.
“I’m going to watch the World Cup, no doubt. I’ve got a lot of teammates playing. But there’s no emotional connection. I’m totally confident with my decision since day one. It took me to the highest levels, the Ballon d’Or.”
She added: “Even though sometimes I would be like, [sighs] “Am I really going to take on that fight?” I would always think, but what will it bring for the future, for others? That’s in the back in my head, behind every decision I make.”
- Read more:
- RANKED: The 21 most valuable soccer players in the world right now
- Women’s World Cup 2019: Everything you need to know before the tournament kicks off in Paris
- WHERE ARE THEY NOW? The legendary 1999 U.S. Women’s National Team that won the World Cup
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