One of the most prestigious soccer awards ceremonies in the world sparked outrage Monday night when the first-ever women’s soccer player of the year was asked to twerk on stage by a male presenter.
Norwegian striker Ada Hegerberg, 23, had just accepted her trophy when the presenter, Martin Solveig, a DJ and producer, asked her in French if “she could twerk”. Visibly irritated, Hegerberg declined. With an abrupt “no,” she turned and left.
Hegerberg had just been crowned the first ever recipient of the Women’s Ballon D’or – an annual soccer award that until this year only recognized the best male player in the world. Hegerberg was the leading scorer with 15 goals as her team, Lyon, won the Champions League for the third year in a row.
France Football has awarded the Ballon d’Or to a male player every year since 1956, but this is the first year there has been a women’s award.
Before Solveig’s intervention, Hegerberg thanked all who had helped her to the achievement.
“I want to say thanks to my team-mates because this would not have been possible without them, my coach or our president Jean-Michel Aulas,” Hegerberg said.
“I also want to thank France Football. This is a huge step for women’s football.”
But what should have been a celebratory and historic evening quickly descended into awkwardness and uncomfortable silence. Soccer, like many sports, has a problem with sexism. Solveig’s comments were met with stunned silence in the audience. The ceremony, which took place in Paris, appeared to be cut short after the incident.
In a video posted to Twitter shortly after, Solveig said “he [hadn’t] wanted to offend anyone,” and that the question, intended as a joke, had been misconstrued.
In an interview with the BBC later on Monday, Hegerberg sought to play down the moment.
“He came to me afterwards and was really sad that it went that way. I didn’t really think about it at the time to be honest. I didn’t really consider it a sexual harassment or anything in the moment.
“I was just happy to do the dance and win the Ballon d’Or to be honest. I will have a glass of champagne when I get back,” she said.
On the same night, Luka Modric, who lead Croatia to their first ever World Cup Final and won an unprecedented third Champions League trophy with Spanish club Real Madrid, was named the world’s best male player. Cristiano Ronaldo, who has won the Ballon D’or five times – a record he shares with Barcelona striker Lionel Messi – placed second.
It was the first time in ten years that neither player has won the award.
Correction, Dec. 6
The original version of this story misstated the rankings for this year’s Ballon D’or award for male players. Cristiano Ronaldo placed second and Lionel Messi placed fifth, Ronaldo did not place fifth and Messi did not place second.