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09th Jun 2019

Ada Hegerberg isn’t at the World Cup – here’s why

Wayne Farry

The world’s best player will be absent from the World Cup in France

Ada Martine Stolsmo Hegerberg is 23 years old. She has played professional football for close to a decade. In that time she has scored 259 goals in 253 club career games.

She has won the Champions League on four occasions, the most recent of which was sealed by her 16-minute hat-trick in the final against Barcelona. In 2015 she was the first woman in two decades to be named the Norwegian footballer of the year, and in 2018 she was the recipient of the first ever Ballon d’Or Femenin.

She is the best player in the world, but she will not represent her country at the World Cup.

On that night in Paris, France – a night that should have been the best night of her nascent career – Hegerberg was asked to twerk by one of the event’s hosts, DJ Martin Solveig.

This is not the reason that she will be absent from the 2019 World Cup – the reasons are much more nuanced and go much deeper than one idiot with a microphone – but this incident is symptomatic of the issues which continue to blight women’s football; issues which are the root of the Olympique Lyonnais star’s absence from proceedings.

Hegerberg made herself unavailable for international selection after Norway were eliminated in the group stages of the 2017 European Championships in the Netherlands with a record of three defeats from three games. They failed to score a single goal in that tournament.

It was an embarrassing performance, but it was not out of embarrassment that Hegerberg retired. No, Hegerberg’s decision was one made in protest at the Norwegian Football Federation’s treatment of its women footballers.

Shortly after her decision, in late 2017, the NFF announced a re-allocation of funds to ensure that they would become the first international football association to pay their men’s and women’s teams the same amount.

It was hoped that this gesture would build a bridge with their best player, and encourage her to return to the international fold.

ada hegerberg

It did not.

This is partly because the pay equity was not a request by the women’s team.

After the humiliation in the Netherlands, the Norwegian Players’ Association – which represents all Norwegian football players – asked the NFF to increase the marketing budget for the women’s team.

Instead of doing this, the NFF decided to cut male players’ pay by a small amount, and double the pay for women. It was seen by some as a cynical ploy to create the facade of equality – an initiative which failed to address the lack of attention to care and detail that the NFF pays to the women’s team, a side which is historically much more successful than their male compatriots.

“The decision isn’t just a consequence of the Euros,” said Hegerberg in her initial statement on her decision. “It’s based on my experiences with the national team over a long period of time.”

“I always feel that I have been a worse player when I have gone home from the [national team] selection and it should not be so,” she added, in a damning indictment on the structural and organisational failings of the NFF.

In a February interview with Norwegian football magazine Josimar, which was published by the outlet once again this month, she further explained her stance: “We weren’t taken seriously as a women’s national team. There was no culture for training with quality or wanting to get better.”

At this stage, the impasse between both parties is unlikely to change any time soon.

After Hegerberg made her decision publicly, the NFF stated that she had never aired her grievances to them prior to her retirement and that, if she had, they would have been willing to change things.

She vehemently disagreed, claiming that she had, on numerous occasions, raised concerns over the level of commitment the federation shows the women’s team, and the women’s game in general.

After her most recent highlight of a career full of them – the Champions League final win – Hegerberg draped herself in the Norway flag as she celebrated with teammates.

“I miss playing for my country,” she said, in a comment that may have brought about renewed hope were it not for the comment that immediately followed it. “But not for my federation.”