Here to present the Ballon d’Or to the world’s best female football player, Spain’s Aitana Bonmati, welcome to the stage…Novak Djokovic! ?
Wait a moment.
Isn’t this the same guy who once said that men’s tennis players should be paid more than women’s tennis players? Yes.
In 2016, after winning the Indian Wells Masters, Djokovic was asked what he thought about equal pay and said men “should strive for more” and “be rewarded more” as statistics show in men’s tennis attendance rate is higher.
There was immediate backlash, leading to a Facebook apology post quickly retracting the stance. For many, it feels like it’s too late. The power of his position means his words are fed into the already burning flames of opposition to equal pay – not for equal work.
“Women should fight for what they think they deserve, and we should fight for what we think we deserve,” he said in his initial response.
The 24-time Grand Slam winner added: “I have a lot of respect for what women have done and achieved in global sports. Their bodies are very different to men’s bodies. They have to go through a lot that we don’t have to go through. Different things. You know, hormones and stuff, we don’t need to go into detail.”
i miss us Do Some of these details need to be discussed in detail, Novak.
Beyond “hormones,” there’s sexism, misogyny, and deep-seated gender bias (whether conscious or unconscious). All of these have proven difficult to eradicate.
But Djokovic is not the problem. In fact, his name is useful. He is a conduit for addressing women’s issues in football and wider society.
Djokovic’s Ballon d’Or appearance served as a catalyst for discussion about how yet another moment to celebrate and honor outstanding women in football has been hijacked by an incompetent organization.
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The article began by criticizing who was chosen to present the award, rather than praising Bonmati himself and an extremely talented footballer who ultimately received the award. I say “eventually” because there was no trophy to greet the Barcelona and Spain midfielder when she was declared the winner.
The two-time Champions League winner took to the stage and stood on the podium to receive the applause she deserved.
But Bonmati pulled one of the microphones toward her and placed her speech on an empty glass ledge. The awards she had earned through years of hard work and competition were nowhere to be found.
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A few awkward seconds pass before a man emerges from backstage holding a golden ball, like something you forget to bring to the stove in the middle of a meal. Not to be missed, this iconic trophy arrived at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris in style, complete with a custom handcrafted Louis Vuitton travel case.
They have not forgotten that Messi’s trophy is waiting for him.
David Beckham presented the Argentinian with his latest award and his choice made sense. Not only because Beckham is one of the most famous faces in football, but also because of his personal relationship with Messi as co-owner of Inter Miami.
In a city that is home to some of the greatest art ever created, this group painted their own picture. The lack of women in the room, especially the lack of female nominees, was noteworthy.
Only 7 of the 30 nominated female contestants attended. The reasons for this will be familiar to fans of women’s football. Fixture conflict. It was another day dominated by men’s football, with the awards ceremony once again taking place during the women’s international break. England head coach Sarina Wiegman expressed dismay at the disregard shown.
When Messi’s moment came, people were ecstatic and rehearsed in advance. For Bonmati, it’s a different story — and in more ways than one, than being presented with the award by a famous male athlete from an entirely different sport.
This is something we should still grapple with. It would make sense if Brazilian football pioneer Marta took the stage. If organizers are committed to going the celebrity tennis player route, where are the invitations to Serena Williams or Billie Jean King? If any of these icons had won an award, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
If Marta were there, I would probably use this space to praise her for giving another great speech in a room filled with some (obviously, not all) of football’s most influential and respected players.
As someone who has always lowered the ladder for the next generation, Marta will make sure she hands the trophy to Bomati. If a woman had been included in the award before 2018, maybe it would have been a trophy for her to win.
But the problem doesn’t end there – there is no equivalent to the Women’s Yashin Cup for the best goalkeeper. There is currently no equivalent Copa Trophy awarded to the best player under the age of 21.
Djokovic takes to the stage to give us another pair of theater binoculars that can be delivered. Control over them is waning. We’ve peered through their lenses so many times and the view is almost always the same version. It reveals to us an unequal game.
If this is the highest level of the sport, and those on the upper circle can see it even without binoculars, what happens on the outer circle?
(Above: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)