Chelsea's Pernille Harder on the importance of using her platform to express her values
"It’s my values that I speak loud about and if that can make the world a better place then that's okay.”
Pernille Harder is one of the biggest stars in women's football. At just 28 years of age, the Danish international has enjoyed a sustained period of success in her career, winning countless individual accolades and numerous titles.
Her time in Germany with VFL Wolfsburg saw her play a key role in the club's domestic dominance, helping them to four consecutive league and cup doubles. Had they not faced the all-conquering Lyon, she might have left the 2018 and 2020 Champions League finals with as a European champion, too.
Harder's time in Lower Saxony saw her establish herself as one of the leading players in the game. Named UEFA Women's Player of the Year in 2018 and 2020, her dazzling displays persuaded Chelsea to pay a world-record fee to take her to London last summer. Her winning habit has continued: another season, another league and cup double added to her already-lengthy honours list.
Her success and status as one of the world's best is helping her realise a childhood dream of emulating the great Brazilian, Marta.
"Marta was my idol growing up," she tells JOE, a smile breaking across her face.
"I think she won something like five individual awards in a row, so when a player performs on a high level like that for so long, I think that shows something about their character.
"I think that's so cool."
Just as Marta was to her, now Harder is establishing herself as a role model - and not just for her achievements on the pitch.
The midfielder is passionate about the LGBTQ community. After a photo of her and partner, Chelsea teammate Magdalena Eriksson, went viral during the World Cup, she has used her platform as a way to inspire others to open up and be proud of who they are.
Harder admitted that the reaction to the photo surprised her and made her realise the size of audience her football career has helped her build.
"I’ve always been open about my relationship but it took a while before I realised I actually have a big platform, especially after this photo of me and Magda (Magdalena Eriksson), my partner, when we were kissing at the World Cup," she said.
"The response to that picture made me realise I was actually pretty powerful in terms of talking about what is important for me and going into debates like this."
She added: "It’s not hard work to do it. It’s my values that I speak loud about. And if that can make the world a better place, then that's okay.”
"I was proud and then I got motivated to keep getting my values out and change the thoughts of some people who maybe need to think better about the world."
In the social media age, sport stars have a profile like never before. The likes of Marcus Rashford have used their platform to help tackle the issue of child poverty, and even force change in government policy, while other players like Patrick Bamford are using their platform to push for change in areas like climate change and sustainability. Harder admires this, but believes this responsibility shouldn't be something that is forced upon people.
"It has to be a decision you make yourself as an individual as to whether you want to do it or not," she explains.
"I think all football players have to realise that they have such a big platform and voice as well, especially men’s football players. They can make a huge difference in so many ways by using their platform, but obviously that’s not something I would force people to do. It has to come from them.
"It’s not only about LGBTQ, it’s also about racism, being inclusive and diversity in general. Both male and female football players have a big platform and a big voice.”
Harder says the response to her post has been unanimously positive. She has never received any form of homophobic abuse during her time as a footballer.
"I have never experienced homophobia," she says. "I think women’s football is much further ahead in this term.
"Also, because women’s football hasn’t been as popular historically, I think we are able to just be ourselves without thinking what some fans are thinking or if someone sends you a bad message on Twitter because you are gay.
"We’ve never really had that external pressure historically, but it’s coming now and I also think we can feel that with social media. I think there is more external pressure and opinions now than before. Because there wasn’t much before, I think it’s made it easier for us to cope with it.
"I focus on what I’m doing but if I’m reading stuff that’s not nice, it does affect me somehow because if someone is writing a bad message or tweet about me, all humans are affected in some ways. It’s about how long it takes before you let that feeling go.”
The next few months promise to be a hectic spell for Harder. Chelsea will attempt to defend their domestic titles, and - having lost last year's final for a third time - she will hope to win that elusive Champions League winner's medal ahead of meeting up with her national team for next summer's European championships. He performances on the field, coupled with her honesty and willingness to speak so openly off it mark her out as a true inspiration.
Watch Heineken®’s latest announcement video here sharing three more reasons to cheer, having extended its already expansive footprint in motorsport and football with three exciting new partnerships - UEFA Women’s Champions League, UEFA Women’s European Championship & W Series.