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Soccer Ada Hegerberg’s historic Ballon d’Or win overshadowed by sexist ‘twerk’ request

Ada Hegerberg celebrates with the Ballon d'Or award during the Golden Ball award ceremony at the Grand Palais in Paris, France, on Dec. 3, 2018.

Christophe Ena/The Associated Press

The head of a major Canadian women’s sports organization feels a DJ continued a disturbing trend by asking soccer star Ada Hegerberg to twerk after receiving an international award.

Allison Sandmeyer-Graves, the CEO of the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity, was disappointed French DJ Martin Solveig made the request to Hegerberg after the Norwegian became the first woman to win the Ballon d’Or. The award for top soccer player in the world added recognition for women for the first time on Monday in Paris.

“I think the message that women get everywhere in society, but very much in sport, very much where bodies are on display, is that what your body looks like is more important than what your body can do,” Sandmeyer-Graves said. “She just reached the highest pinnacle of accomplishment in a sporting career, and was reduced to just what her body looks like. And with no acknowledgment of her strength and power and skill and strategic mind, and all of those sorts of things that could be highlighted in the moment.

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“Research shows that women get four per cent of mainstream media coverage in an Olympic year. Women just aren’t visible on our TVs and in our print media, and when they do show up, this is so often how they get presented.

“This does just keep happening over and over and over again, and it really speaks to just how normalized it is for people to view women through this lens.”

Solveig apologized for the question, tweeting, “I didn’t know that this could be seen as such an offence,” and adding: “This was a joke, probably a bad one.”

Sandmeyer-Graves didn’t see the humour.

“How often do women need to forgive this sort of thing? No, actually, it wasn’t funny. And it had serious consequences,” she said. “People don’t understand just how much this impacts the big picture of women in sport and girls and how they view themselves, and how they feel about what it means to be out in the world.”

Canadian international soccer goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who has won 116 caps for Canada, wasn’t happy with the twerking request.

“I can only comment on the fact that receiving this award is the greatest achievement for any football player, male or female, and the mention of twerking or a request to do so at such an event is a total insult,” she said in an email to The Canadian Press. “Ada Hegenberg is a wonderful player and I just hope DJ Martin Solveig’s comment doesn’t cloud such an achievement.

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“That’s all I can really say — the fact that it was directed towards a woman makes it even worse at a time when women are finally making strides in the football world.”

Tennis star Andy Murray also was critical of Solveig.

“Another example of the ridiculous sexism that still exists in sport,” Murray wrote on Instagram.

The twerk request was similar to a question posed to Canadian tennis player Eugenie Bouchard at the Australian Open in 2015.

A male presenter conducting an on-court interview with Bouchard at the Grand Slam tournament asked Bouchard to “give us a twirl.”

“A twirl?” the native of Westmount, Que., asked.

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“A twirl, like a pirouette, here you go,” coaxed her interviewer, urging the Wimbledon runner-up to show the crowd her outfit, a pink skirt and top with bright yellow straps.

Somewhat uncomfortably, the then-No. 7-ranked player twirled. Then she laughed and buried her face in her hands.

“It was very unexpected,” Bouchard said afterward.

“I don’t know, an old guy asking you to twirl. It was funny.”

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