The Women’s World Cup has kicked off in France but Ada Hegerberg, the jewel in the crown, has refused to participate and fight for the greater good of the sport.
Four consecutive Champions League titles. Thirteen trophies in the last five years. 255 goals in 254 club appearances. First female to lift the Ballon d’Or. This is an outrageous list of achievements by themselves, let alone doing it at the age of 23. Ada Hegerberg is a truly generational talent. But the recently commenced Women’s World Cup in France will be without the mercurial Norwegian. And the reason behind her giving up a dream of representing her country in the World Cup is what makes Ada Hegerberg an inspiration to many.
So why isn’t she playing for Norway in the World Cup?
Hegerberg’s last game for her national team was July 24, 2017, when Norway crashed out of the Euros. The following month, the 23-year-old striker announced that she would be stepping away. Given the timing, many interpreted it as a snap reaction to the disastrous campaign. “The decision is not only a consequence of this year’s European Championship but is based on my experiences with the national teams over a long period of time,” was her response.
At twenty-one, the Scandinavian was effectively challenging the Norwegian Football Federation (NFF), asking it to show ambition in propelling women’s football forward. “I don’t want to be too negative,” she explained. “But at the same time, [I want to] point to what the problems are, what is totally absurd and can be done much better. It is about respect. And I think women’s football does not have the respect it should have in Norway.”
“It is not about money”
Hegerberg’s self-imposed exile started to have an effect in the coming months. The NFF sanctioned a groundbreaking agreement which afforded equal pay to both its men and women. The men agreed to take a pay cut to stand on par with their female counterparts. If the situation towards women has started to change, why is Ada Hegerberg still protesting?
The player insists that it has never been all about the money involved. “I try to not talk as much about money when I talk about making a difference,” Hegerberg recently said on the Olympic Channel podcast. “Because it’s much bigger than that as well – the respect, and the attitude about women, women playing football, I think that’s a more important place to start.”
Ada Hegerberg decided to open up, after initially not wanting to publicize it, after the narrative was slowing being spun against her. She talked about “takhøyde” a Norwegian term that doesn’t translate literally to English but which loosely means “room for self-expression”. “It is difficult to have a voice,” she lamented.
“The culture has been pulled down. The culture of winning, the culture of putting the women in a good spot of development. I feel I’ve done everything to have an impact on what could be improved. And when I could see that I couldn’t change anything, and when I started to lose myself … in that system, I couldn’t continue.”
“I love my country, I miss representing my country. My connection to Norway is the same as always. It’s just that I don’t play for the national team. It would be easy for me to perform, do my thing, and stay quiet,” she continued. “But it’s so much bigger than that.”
It’s remarkable that this story has not been more dominant in the news. As the story gained traction since the start of the tournament itself, the negativity spread by former players and a section of fans has been baffling. But try to imagine for a second the questions, the public outcry, the news coverage if a Ronaldo or a Messi decided to skip the 2018 World Cup in protest.