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Women’s football fight for equality

Women’s football fight for equality

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As the Women’s European football championships starts in England, Norwegian superstar Ada Hegerberg will be hoping to light up the tournament after a five-year absence in protest at sporting inequality in her country.

“Hegerberg takes back her place…” 

BBC

The European Women’s Football Championship kicks off today after it was postponed last year due to the pandemic.

It’s the 11th tournament of its kind since its inception in 1987, and England is hosting it for the second time. 

It’s expected to be the biggest Women’s Euros ever, as the game continues to grow. 

The prize money for this tournament is double the amount that was on offer at the previous one in 2017. 

The hosts England will face Austria in the first game, and in their second game they’ll play Norway – who will be bolstered by the return of their star striker, Ada Hegerberg.

In recent years, she’s become known not just for her remarkable success on the pitch, but for the stand she’s taken off it. 

Ada Hegerberg has been absent from the Norwegian national team for the past five years, after she announced in 2017 that she didn’t want to play until the football authorities improved their treatment of female players.

I think that girls deserve to be taken seriously if they want to do sports or achieve what they are set for. And I think it’s about putting the same demands as you do for young boys, and do the same for girls so they get the same opportunity and also for them to be taken seriously enough.

ESPN

Ada Hegerberg is one of the game’s absolute superstars. 

At just 26 years old, she’s won the Champions League six times for the dominant force of women’s club football, Lyon. 

She’s also the tournament’s all-time top scorer, and in 2018 she was the first ever recipient of the women’s Ballon d’Or.

So her decision to step away from the national team when she was 22 years old was a bold move. 

She knew she was sacrificing the chance to represent her country in the peak years of her career, missing the 2019 World Cup, when Norway was knocked out in the quarter-finals. 

But her decision was driven by a determination to force a change within the Norwegian football federation, the body overseeing the sport in the country.

Her protest was about gender inequality from the top-down in the game. 

The reasons were far-reaching – from the pay gap between men’s and women’s football, through to use of facilities in the country. 

In a 2020 documentary, she said that, while preparing for World Cup qualifiers, Norway’s women’s team were often relegated to inferior pitches, and some kit they’d been promised arrived late and in the wrong sizes.  

In one incident, the Norwegian women’s squad got a single t-shirt each to wear for a training camp that lasted ten days.

She said the football federation “took a train back to the 1800s and stayed there”.

Women’s football has undoubtedly come a long way since its first European Championships in 1987. 

This year the world record attendance for a women’s match was broken when Barcelona played Wolfsburg Women in front of 91,000 fans.

In February, American player Trinity Rodman became the highest paid player in women’s American soccer after she signed a contract worth 1.1 million dollars. 

But the women’s game still has a long way to go to catch up with the men. 

And it is often up to the players to affect change, rather than those at the top of the game to proactively seek equality.

Earlier this year, the US women’s national soccer team won a landmark equal pay case that they had been fighting with the United States Soccer Federation for six years.

In England, since 2020 the women’s national team has received the same fee as their male counterparts for appearances, but competition bonuses are a lot smaller. 

If England had won the women’s World Cup in 2019, the players would have received £50,000 each in bonuses. If the men had won the 2018 World Cup, they would have pocketed £217,000 each.

In March, Ada Hegerberg posted a picture on social media of herself draped in a Norwegian flag. The caption simply read: “Go Norway – long time no see,” and she quite deliberately tagged both the Norwegian men’s and women’s team in the image. 

She had her change of heart after being convinced to rejoin the Norwegian national team ahead of these European Championships by the new Norwegian federation’s president, Lise Klaveness.

Klaveness is the first female president of the country’s football federation in its 120 year history, and had played alongside Ada Hegerberg.  

Hegerberg says that it was after ‘honest discussions’ with Klaveness that she was happy to come back into the fold.  

Since her return, Hegerberg has played twice for Norway. In her first game back, she scored a hat-trick – underlining just how important she is for the Norwegian side.

And as they take to the pitch up and down England over the next month, Ada Hegerberg’s influence will be felt as much on the pitch as off it. 

Today’s episode was written by Andrew Butler, and mixed by Ella Hill.