Tuesday 22 January 2019

Donnchadh Boyle: 'Moral outrage comes easy but most just paying lip service to women in sport'


Ada Hegerberg: World player of year. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP
Ada Hegerberg: World player of year. Photo: Franck Fife/AFP
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

If you're of a certain vintage then there's a good chance you had never heard of Martin Solveig before this week.

Born Martin Picandet, he is, according to his Wikipedia page, "a French DJ, singer-songwriter and record producer" and also the man entrusted with hosting the Ballon d'Or ceremony in France during the week.

And we all know by now that he got it spectacularly wrong. Lyon star Ada Hegerberg's was crowned the best female footballer on the planet. In terms of what not to do, asking the Norwegian international to 'twerk' - a sexually provocative dance - was probably top of the list. Solveig misread the mood music and we've been hearing of the fallout since.

It was the first time the woman's award had been handed out and, as such, was a landmark moment. It needed to be handled appropriately and it wasn't. Solveig scored a massive own goal.

He apologised shortly afterwards both on social media and to the Hegerberg in person but even that wasn't handled particularly well.

"People who have followed me for 20 years know how respectful I am especially with women," he said.

It might be nit-picking but by pointing out that he treated women slightly differently in terms of respect, he showed that he was missing the point.

The Norwegian international handled the fallout well. Clearly unimpressed at the time, she dealt with the issue afterwards in interviews.

"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, yes."

And while Hegerberg - the injured party - was able to move on from the event pretty quickly, the moral police moved in. For the record, Solveig danced with Young Player of the Year Kylian Mbappe on the night while Luka Modric was asked how he felt to win the award that had been the personal property of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo for more than a decade. And while dancing with Mbappe did give things a slightly different context, it still didn't make it okay.

Never ones to miss a chance, twitter's moral police weighed in.

And that's the thing about social media. Moral outrage is the cheapest commodity going. Quickly it becomes a race to be the most offended and have the hottest take on the issue.

Scroll through the timelines and it's rare you feel like many of those moralising about the struggles of women in sport actually care too much about the subject.

It is simply the topic du jour and the next incensed tweet could be about celebrities in the jungle or their dinner that night. How many of those bemoaning the ongoing struggle for recognition on social media over the past few days are actually willing to get involved to help take women's sport to a higher plane?

Take Ireland's clash with England in Twickenham recently as an example. The stadium had been full as the England men's team beat Australia but while the live TV cameras remained, the crowd voted with their feet and moved on before the second match. Firing off a tweet in support of women in sport is easy. Giving high-end women's sport a couple hours on a Saturday afternoon is clearly a different story.

And it's not just an English thing either. The Irish women's team played in Lansdowne Road for the first time in 2014 when they took on Italy. They took to the field to a great reception on the same day Brian O'Driscoll played his last game on home soil.

By the time they secured their 39-0 win that gave them a shot at retaining their Six Nations title, the crowd had dwindled drastically. There were mitigating circumstances, but on both occasions supporters chose to actively disengage with the women's game.

Progress has been made. The ladies football final has gone from strength to strength here based on many things including rocketing standards in terms of preparation but it's also not long since the soccer team had to lobby for the most basic equipment. With the help of the 20x20 campaign, the lot of the sportswoman will only continue to improve.

Solveig's misstep reminded us there's still a way to travel. But the incident also showed that there's still more of those who profess to care than those who actually do.

Irish Independent

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