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Hegerberg’s message to young girls: ‘Believe in yourselves’

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Story highlights

  • Hegerberg wins first women’s Ballon d’Or
  • Won third straight Champions League title with Lyon
  • Scored record 15 goals in Europe last season

(CNN)Her moment in the spotlight may have been overshadowed by host Martin Solveig, but Ada Hegerberg, the first ever winner of the Women’s Ballon d’Or, nonetheless ensured her message was heard by the world.

Norwegian Hegerberg, 23, was asked by the DJ if she knew how to twerk after being crowned women’s player of the year, a comment that stood in stark contrast to the powerful speech she delivered after picking up the award.

“I would like to end this speech with some words to young girls all over the world: Please, believe in yourselves,” said Lyon forward Hegerberg.

    “I’d like to say a big huge thank you to France Football for letting us have this opportunity to have this award. It’s a huge step for women’s football and the work you put down is such an important thing for women’s football.

    “Together we’ll make a difference.”

    Ada Hegerberg is congratulated by her Lyon teammates after winning the 2018 Women's Ballon d'Or

    It is unclear whether Hegerberg will represent Norway at next year’s World Cup in France.

    The striker took the decision to step away from the Norwegian national team in 2017 due to her reported frustrations with the way women’s football is treated within the country.

    “She’s only 23 but she’s stepped back from the national team because she’s fighting for things that she believes are right that aren’t necessarily right and certain things that are issues in sexism in her FA as well,” former New Zealand international Rebecca Smith told CNN Sport Tuesday.

    Should Hegerberg be absent from France next summer, it would be a huge loss for women’s football’s biggest tournament.

    Earlier this year, the Norwegian scored a record 15 goals as Lyon became the first team to win three-straight Champions League titles, bettering her tally of 14 from the previous season.

    Hegerberg took the opportunity to call out then-Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo, who ended his Champions League campaign on 14 goals.

    “Got a record now. Sweet, sweet 15,” she wrote last May. “Couldn’t do it without my teammates. Hey @Cristiano can you score one more tomorrow?”

    The forward also helped Lyon win its 12th consecutive title in France’s Division 1 Féminine, where for three seasons in a row she has finished as the league’s top scorer.

    She ended last season by signing a three-year contract extension with Lyon, and the start of the 2018/19 season has seen Hegerberg bag 10 goals in 10 appearances for her club.

    Hegerberg finished a marginal six points ahead of Danish captain Pernille Harder to become the first winner of the women’s Ballon d’Or.

    Ada Hegerberg celebrates Lyon's third successive Champions League title after a 4-1 in over Wolfsburg

    ‘Remembered for the rest of their lives’

    The Ballon d’Or, voted for by journalists, is widely considered the most prestigious individual prize in the sport, but this was the first time since its inception in 1956 that there was a women’s category.

    England Women’s manager Phil Neville says the award is long overdue, but the introduction of this newly-formed category would help enhance the women’s game.

    “When you think of the quality over the last few years, there’s been some unbelievable World Cups, European Championships, South American Championships, it’s about time that we had this award,” the former Manchester United midfielder told CNN Sport hours before the ceremony.

    “You think about the Ballon d’Or winners — Kevin Keegan, Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi, these are iconic figures for everybody, male or female, girl or boy, and now when you talk about the best female footballer on the planet that has a nice, exciting ring to it.

    “They [the winners] will be remembered for the rest of their lives and people will now be looking at them as heroes.

    “People are now seeing these women as iconic figures and people they can inspire to be like and that’s how you grow the game and that’s what’s happening and it’s fantastic we’ve got this award to celebrate the growth of women’s football.

    “That’s how you grow a fanbase, that’s how you get more sponsors, that’s how you get more people into stadiums.”

    ‘Sexism still exists’

    Although Hegerberg’s award has brought attention to the women’s game, the headlines surrounding host Solveig’s remarks have overshadowed and somewhat marred her historic feat.

    Former Football Ferns player Smith, who won 74 caps for her country before serving as FIFA’s manager of Strategic Planning for Women’s Football, says the incident speaks of wider problems with sexism in the sport, but admits improvements have been made.

    “[Sexism] still exists clearly and I think it’s an everyday sexism that is sort of an underlying tone — not just in women’s sport but in general that women are dealing with,” 37-year-old Smith, who retired from football in 2013, tells CNN Sport.

      “Definitely it’s gotten better. One of the major things that has moved the game forward is the fact that the media started to show these things. If the Ballon d’Or had decided that they didn’t want to include women in the show, these sorts of issues would have never been brought up.

      “It’s such an amazing sport with these amazing characters and fantastic stories. I think people will feel much more comfortable becoming part of the conversations which can be much more positive around the sport.”


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