Does Ada Hegerberg’s World Cup absence hurt the women’s game?
Background photo: Jeff Abauzit, CC BY 2.0
She’s officially the best female footballer on the planet, but Ada Hegerberg will not be gracing the Women’s World Cup with her presence this summer.
The Norwegian striker has been in a self-imposed exile from the national team since 2017. She considers her country to have shown too much disrespect – the FA only formally recognised the women’s game in 1976.
A historic pay agreement, signed mere months after the start of her hiatus, sees female footballers in the Scandanavian country receive the same amount of money as their male counterparts.
Norway became the first country to make such a move. It even includes just shy of £50,000 paid by the men in order to make sure there is equality even after commercial profits. But despite it all, Hegerberg continues to stay away.
There is no doubting that her motives are noble. Despite the increased profile of women’s football in recent years, there is still much more work to be done.
A pay dispute saw players from Norway’s neighbours Denmark cancel a World Cup qualifier. The Irish have also threatened a similar strike. The all-conquering USWNT is currently amid a lawsuit against their Soccer Federation - alleging gender discrimination and calling for pay parity.
One wonders, though, if the 23-year-old has considered the side-effects of her decision.
Firstly, her choice will have a direct impact on Norwegian fortunes in France this summer. They possess several talented players but Hegerberg is undoubtedly the star name. She may have stopped playing for her country when she was 21, but she still boasts a hugely impressive 38 goals in 66 caps.
Take that sort of goal threat out of any team and it will inevitably suffer and, considering Norway’s performance the last time they featured in a major tournament, they need her shooting ability. They exited in the group stage at EURO 2017. without a win and without finding the back of the net once.
A strong showing in the World Cup will do the women’s game in Norway no end of good. We saw it in England after their fairytale tournament in 2015. The Lionesses achieved a third-place finish in Canada and went on to win the SheBelieves Cup for the first time earlier this year. As a result, the profile of English women’s football has never been higher.
But it’s there’s also a wider impact on the women’s game in general. Just like the men’s World Cup, interest in this tournament will be raised if it features the best players and most recognisable names on the planet. Hegerberg falls into both categories.
FIFA’s introduction of the female Ballon d’Or award for the first time in 2018 was heralded as a significant step forward. Hegerberg was the first ever winner after a stellar year with Lyon which saw her score a hat-trick in the Champions League final win over Barcelona.
She immediately became the poster girl for the sport, notwithstanding DJ Martin Solveig’s ill-advised ‘twerk’ request in the immediate aftermath. The absence of the current holder of that title from their premiere competition is a kick in the teeth for FIFA.
Not only could it potentially hurt worldwide interest in the tournament, but it could also affect the amount of sponsorship revenue it creates through the absence of arguably its biggest attraction. It’s also bad for fans, who will miss out on seeing the world’s best female footballer in action in France. It’s the equivalent of Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi refusing to play in the World Cup.
The cause that Ada Hegerberg is fighting for is one we can, and should, all get behind. The rise of women’s football can only benefit the sport in the long run. The question remains whether she is going about it in the right way...